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Obama Administration Praises Washoe Schools' Transgender Policy

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Jonathan Drake/Reuters

North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill” and the Obama Administration’s recent education directive have launched transgender rights to the top of our national conversation.

But Washoe County School District has had gender-identity regulations in place for over a year, and was praised by the Department of Education for its emerging practices.

Gina Session is the civil rights compliance director for the Washoe County School District. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that the regulations came about when parents and people in the district recognized there was a vulnerable population of students that need help and that schools need guidance.

“We’ve had instances where these issues arise and our schools were looking for guidance to make sure they were handling these situations appropriately,” she said. 

“We’ve had instances where these issues arise and our schools were looking for guidance to make sure they were handling these situations appropriately,” she said. 

Session said the regulations are centered around Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on gender in schools that get federal funding and courts have ruled that transgender students are included in that rule. 

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“So the policy ensures that the rights of those students to use the facilities based on the gender identity that they identify with that they’re able to do that,” Session said.

Session said the district did not have to go through much adaptation but it did have to educate the staff about the regulations. 

Brooke Maylath is the president of Transgender Allies Group. Maylath told KNPR's State of Nevada that the policy needed to be district wide because when a new teacher or new principal came into a school, a transgender student might have everything he or she had worked out with a previous administration changed. 

Maylath gave an example of a transgender boy waiting for a bus, but the bus driver was expecting to pick up a girl so left him on the curb. 

Maylath said transgender students might not eat or drink during the day for fear that they might have to go to bathroom and the provided bathroom was on the other side of the school. 

Maylath said those who worked on the regulations wanted to make school safe for those students. 

“What can we do to create a level playing field?" Maylath said. "We need to be able to codify this so everyone from the school bus driver to the lunch lady to the principal are all on the same page and have the same kind of information.”

Both Session and Maylath dismissed the idea that someone might dress up as another gender to gain access to a locker room or bathroom.

“In the real world, that’s not how this regulations comes into play,” Session said. 

She explained that the policy covers students who are consistent, persistent and insistent about their transgender identity. 

“This is not as some ignorant people have proposed that the football player can wake up Monday morning and say ‘I feel very girly’ and walk into the girls’ locker room,” Maylath said. 

“This is not as some ignorant people have proposed that the football player can wake up Monday morning and say ‘I feel very girly’ and walk into the girls’ locker room,” Maylath said. 

Maylath said the policies in Washoe County and those laid out in the letter from the Obama Administration allow school administrators to work with individual students "on how best to allow them to thrive within the school system."

Maylath said that idea holds true for transgender and non-transgender students alike. 

"It's all we've been asking for," Maylath said, "Just equality and acceptance."

Guests

Brooke Maylath, president, Transgender Allies Group; Gina Session, civil rights compliance director, Washoe County School District

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