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Downey schools adopt transgender student policies

DOWNEY — Students, faculty members and staff in the Downey Unified School District had a new, unusual set of rules to follow when classes began last week — treatment and privacy rights of transgender students.

Complying with a new state law, AB 1266, school board members last month approved guidelines dealing with the treatment of such students and the privacy rights such as the use of showers and restroom facilities.

Transgender students are those who identify themselves as members of the opposite sex from which they were born.

The bill, approved last summer, created controversy by saying transgender students must be allowed to use restrooms and locker rooms for the sex in which they identify themselves.

District Superintendent John Garcia said he has no count on how many district students are transgender but believes there are some “that fall in that category.”

School board members last July reviewed some of the proposed regulations, which included private, shielded areas in locker rooms for changing clothes and restroom stalls for privacy or the use of single restrooms in various offices.

Garcia noted that Downey schools have private restroom facilities in health or nurse’s offices that are used by some students for a variety of reasons.

The policy, titled “Transgender Students, Privacy and Facilities,” prohibits harassment, discrimination, intimidation or bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identification and gender expression. Such acts are considered “major offenses,” the policy states.

It adds “students shall be informed that they should contact the school principal or designee if they experience such harassment, discrimination intimidation or bullying.”

The policy pledges that all such charges will be investigated and, if proven, appropriate action would be taken against the offending students. It states that the policy does not replace state and federal laws and that complaints shall be investigated under appropriate procedures established by state and federal law.

It allows transgender students to dress and act (voice and mannerisms) like a member of their chosen sex. However, the district has the authority to enact a dress code for reasons of health and safety and may ban clothing with gang symbols or supporting drug use.

The new district policy also covers lesbian, gay or bisexual students and those “who are not yet certain of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Such students may not be excluded from sports and physical education classes, the policy states.

Noting that all students, including transgenders, have a right to privacy and staff must not divulge information on them to others, although the students are free to openly discuss their feelings. However, they may request that they be addressed by their preferred name and pronoun (he or she).

The controversial state law, included in the district policy, allows a student to “have access to the restroom that corresponds to their gender identify,” although they may request use of a private “gender-neutral” facility. Similar rules exist for changing clothing in locker rooms.

For transgender students, a private shielded area may be established in a locker room or restroom, such as toilet stalls or restrooms with doors containing one toilet. The latter may be found in a school’s health or administrative office.

The district is required to keep a record of all students, including their name and gender. If a student wishes to change that in district records, a court order would be required.

“The Downey Unified School District is committed to maintaining a safe and supportive school environment in which all members of the school community are treated with dignity and respect,” the policy states.

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