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New gender inclusion guidelines for schools a good start, say advocates

July 2, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick

A first-of-its-kind slate of “gender inclusion” guidelines for New York City public schools is a step in the right direction, according to advocates.

In a showing of support for LGBTQ+ youth, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced the Guidelines on Gender Inclusion on Friday, along with revisions to the Department of Education’s existing Guidelines for Supporting Transgender and Gender Expansive Students. These new recommendations aim to ensure support for all 1.1 million New York City school students, no matter their gender identity.

The new set of guidelines covers, among other provisions, inclusion across genders in student clubs and health classes, and a more fluid dress code, “free of gender stereotypes.”

In sports (except the ones to which state regulations apply, like wrestling and football) a student must be permitted to play on intramural and competitive sports teams in accordance with their gender identity — something previously decided on a case-by-case basis. Similarly, physical education classes cannot be segregated by gender.

Under the updates to the city’s existing set of guidelines, students will be allowed to change their name and gender on school records without legal documentation (with permission from a parent or guardian). Families can also now self-report their child’s gender upon enrollment, as opposed to submitting a birth certificate.

“I’m very, very excited about them,” Jamie Eckstein, outreach director for Educators for Excellence, told the Brooklyn Eagle about the updates. “I think they go a step farther than the previous guidelines.”

Eckstein said she is especially impressed with their wording.

“I think the fact that the DOE chose very specific language, like the phrase ‘gender expansiveness,’ is a big deal,” she said. “It’s a little bit of an obtuse, big word, but it allows students in schools who aren’t exactly sure yet what their identity is to still fit in that space and have that support.”

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Also significant, Eckstein said, was the timing of Carranza’s announcement, which came on the same day as the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

“That’s super symbolic,” she said. “Friday marked 50 years of progress, and to see the largest school district in the country not only standing behind that progress, but also putting money behind that progress, is huge.”

“We think the guidelines are a great start,” added Brittany Brathwaite, manager of organizing and innovation at Girls for Gender Equity.

GGE is a Brooklyn-based nonprofit tackling issues like sexism, racial inequality, homophobia, transphobia and sexual harassment. The group has long been advocating for equitable dress codes.

Though, Brathwaite contended, guidelines are unfortunately sometimes just that — guidelines. It is up to the DOE to follow through with a successful rollout to ensure their success. “We’re hoping that, during the rollout, there will be education and awareness that go along with it. That way, schools follow through.”

According to the DOE, there will be summer trainings for superintendents and their offices ahead of the rollout, through which school staff will be equipped to implement gender-inclusive curricula and programs in the new school year.

Additional trainings will be offered from 2019 through 2020, the agency said.

As for the guidelines themselves, Brathwaite told the Eagle that there is more to build upon.

The new dress code rule reads that schools “cannot prohibit students from maintaining or wearing hairstyles closely associated with their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, disability or other protected identity” — but GGE is still hoping the city will consider stronger wording.

“I think the guidelines do a really good job addressing the gender expectations, but we really want to see guidelines that specifically address the racial expectations,” Brathwaite said. “We will be advocating for a more thorough policy that really lays out the racist, classist and sexist components that dress codes enforce.”

The guidelines will take effect this September at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

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