Education Commissioner Ken Wagner announced his commitment to require all school districts in the state to adopt comprehensive policies affirming the civil rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students at a meeting of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education. This marks a change for Wagner, who last month said that such a policy may not be the best way to deal with the issue.
“Rhode Island state law protects against discrimination based on gender identity. We must support the spirit of the law in our schools so that we foster safe, inclusive, and affirming learning environments for all students.,” said Wagner in a statement. “After hearing the concerns of the advocacy community, we understand the desire to have a statewide standard to ensure that transgender and gender non-conforming students are welcome, affirmed, and safe in their school communities. At the next meeting of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, RIDE will present regulatory language that would require all districts adopt a comprehensive policy. Districts can adopt the state’s model policy that we first promulgated in 2016, or they can create policies of their own, provided that the local policy is aligned with the state guidance.”
“This is an important step to guaranteeing equitable treatment of all transgender and gender non-conforming students across Rhode Island,” said ACLU of RI Policy Associate Marcela Betancur. “We look forward to working with RIDE and the school districts to ensure that the regulations and policies that are adopted provide comprehensive and meaningful support for students.”
In 2016, partly in response to federal guidance on the issue that has since been repealed by President Donald Trump, the state Department of Education (RIDE) released a detailed model policy that aimed to address the specific needs of trans students and ensure schools’ compliance with civil rights laws. The model policy highlighted many issues facing these students, including confidentiality, access to facilities, participation in school programs, and dress codes.
However, until recently, the RIDE policy remains just a model, and as such, schools are not mandated to adopt it. In fact, a recent report from the ACLU of RI found that more than 25 percent of RI public schools have no comprehensive policy in place to protect transgender and gender non-conforming students.