COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Several central Ohio school districts have implemented policies supporting LGBTQ+ students, while one northeast district has enacted a measure garnering backlash from parents of transgender students.
Columbus City Schools, Bexley City Schools and Westerville City Schools have implemented statutes within the district’s board of education policies designed to affirm students who identify within the LGBTQ+ community. The policies include guidelines on the use of sex-specific facilities, pronouns, records and privacy, discrimination and dress code.
“The district is committed to ensuring that all of its students, including transgender and gender variant students, are provided a safe, supportive and equitable environment that is free from discrimination and harassment based on student’s actual or perceived sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, and nonconformity to gender stereotypes,” Columbus schools’ measure states.
Canal Winchester City Schools, Gahanna-Jefferson Local Schools, Olentangy Local Schools and Westerville Schools are each home to a brief measure that states trans students are permitted “to participate in single-gender classes in a manner consistent with their gender identity.” Olentangy schools also include sexual orientation and trans identity as protected groups under the district’s anti-harassment policy, a measure that spurred a lawsuit dismissed by a federal judge.
Inversely, New Albany-Plain Local School School District adopted a policy in 2022 directing staff not to ask students which pronouns align with their gender identity. The measure quickly garnered backlash from parents like Joe Quigley, the father of a transgender student who said board members are aligning with conservative activists “to target transgender kids.”
“The board has decided to take stances that, I think, are out of step with the majority of people in New Albany and run counter to New Albany’s goals of being a world-class destination for businesses,” Quigley said. “It’s an embarrassment, quite frankly.”
Preferred pronouns in New Albany
New Albany schools enacted an update to student privacy guidelines in 2022 “to align with changes to state or federal law and requirements,” an email to parents said. The directive said no student shall be required, without written consent from a student aged 18 or from a parent or guardian of a minor student, to submit to or participate in any survey analysis that reveals “sex behavior or attitudes,” including gender and pronouns.
“Employees, including teachers, have been directed not to ask students verbally or in writing, including surveys, to share personally identifiable information outlined herein, including their preferred pronouns,” the email sent Aug. 12, 2022, states.
Should a minor student request a staff member to refer to them as a different identified gender or pronoun, the email said staff will work with each student to seek parent or guardian permission prior to honoring the student’s request.
An attorney and candidate for the school board this November, Quigley said the change confused him given he was not aware of a new law that required such amendments to the district’s policies. When he inquired over email, Quigley said board members cited an older statute on surveying students as the reason for privacy guidelines.
“What did become clear was that no laws had changed, and so I felt that the email was misleading,” Quigley said. “The board was telling every parent in the community that there was legislation that required changes to how they conducted school, when in fact there weren’t.”
NBC4 requested comment from a district spokesperson outlining why the policy was enacted. They said the measure remained in place and has been discussed publicly in multiple board meetings.
In collaboration with other district parents, Quigley said he offered a compromise to the board that allowed students to be referred to by their preferred pronouns while providing an avenue for parental transparency. However, the proposal was dismissed by board members.
The debate is personal for Quigley, whose trans son spent his senior year of high school at Ohio State University through the College Credit Plus program because he didn’t want to be on New Albany’s campus. Quigley said he worries for other trans New Albany students who may not live in a home accepting of their gender identity.
“A teacher, a counselor, someone provides that safe space where they can be their true selves, and we know if they have that, the incidence of self-harm among these kids dramatically drops,” Quigley said. “I became aware of the issues through my son, but I’m not doing this for my son, I’m doing this for the kids who maybe aren’t affirmed or aren’t supported.”
About 50% of trans and nonbinary youth reported none of the people they live with respect their pronouns and fewer than 40% found their home to be LGBTQ-affirming, according to The Trevor Project. Those who do live in an affirming home reported lower rates of attempting suicide.
Trans and gender-variant students in Columbus
The state’s largest district with more than 47,000 students, Columbus schools is home to a several-page “Transgender and Gender Variant Students” policy. The district states it will work with trans students to “address issues concerning name and pronoun usage in school, to devise a plan to reflect the student’s needs and wishes.”
“It is the policy of the board of education to maintain an education and work environment that is free from all forms of discrimination or harassment, including sexual harassment,” the policy states. “All students, administrators, teachers, staff and all other school personnel share responsibility for avoiding, discouraging and reporting any form of discrimination.”
On a case-by-case basis, the district will “devise a plan for the use of restrooms, changing facilities, and other gender-segregated activities” and work with students to “address confidentiality issues regarding the student’s gender identity.”
When classes or intramural activities are segregated by gender, trans students are to be grouped according to the student’s gender identity. If the arrangement of a trans student conflicts with the privacy interests of other students, school administrators will consult the superintendent.
In situations where school staff or administrators are required by law to use or to report a trans student’s legal name of sex assigned at birth, staff will “adopt practices avoiding the inadvertent disclosure of such confidential information,” the policy states. Access to that portion of official student records shall be restricted to maintain the confidentially of a student’s trans status.
Gender identity and expression in Bexley
Bexley schools include a “Gender Identity and Expression” section that states “the responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student.” Staff are directed to accept a student’s gender identity “when it is a sincerely held part of the student’s core identity.”
“This policy does not and cannot anticipate every situation that might occur with respect to a student’s gender identity or gender expression,” the measure states. “In all situations, the needs of the student must be assessed by district staff on a case-by-case basis with the goal of ensuring the student’s safety, comfort, privacy and healthy development.”
Tran students are permitted to participate in physical education classes, intramural athletics and gender-segregated activities in a manner consistent with their gender identity. Students also have the right to dress in accordance with their gender identity.
No medical or mental health diagnosis or treatment is required by Bexley schools for a student to have their own gender identity recognized or respected. Staff shall also honor and fully comply with requests of students to be addressed by a name or pronouns different from their sex assigned at birth.
Whenever possible, staff members should speak with the student to confirm the manner in which the student will be referred to in conversation with their parent or guardian. In addition, the district requires a student’s permanent record to be amended to reflect a change in legal name or gender upon receipt of documentation.
“A student’s preferred name, gender marker and gender pronoun should be used to the greatest extent possible on all school-related records and documents,” Bexley’s policy states.
Trans students’ permanent record in Westerville
A brief measure, Westerville City Schools has implemented a student records policy for trans students. The measure states the registrar will change a student’s permanent record to reflect a legal name change or gender transition. The amendment will be made after receipt of a written request from the legal guardian of the student, or from a student age 18 or older.
Receipt of a court order that shows that the name or gender marker has been changed pursuant to applicable law is also required, or a federal or state-issued identity document that a name or gender marker changed. This includes a social security card, driver’s license or permit, or a U.S. passport.