Educators in New Jersey must accept the declared gender identity of students and aren't required to inform their parents of changes in gender identity, according to new rules issued by the New Jersey State Department of Education.
"It's a big deal for transgender students in New Jersey," Aaron Potenza, director of programs for Garden State Equality, an advocacy organization for lesbian, gay and transgender people, told USA Today. “This is probably the strongest guidance we've seen out of any state."
State Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet told the news outlet that educators are obligated "to provide a safe and welcoming school environment so all students throughout the state can achieve their full potential."
He said teachers and other personnel should have “open yet confidential discussions” with transgender students about their chosen name and privacy matters.
Some districts had adopted policies that allow transgender students to use the restrooms based on their gender identity, but the rules weren't consistent across the state.
What prompted the new guidelines?
LGBT advocacy groups, students and teachers have called for clarity, citing that the state's anti-discrimination laws didn't provide enough protection for students.
The guidelines were designed to replace federal guidance issued during the Obama administration, which was rescinded by President Donald Trump's administration.
What does the guidance say?
The guidelines include the following, according to NewJersey.com.
- School districts must accept a student's chosen gender identity without parental consent or notification.
- Schools should address students by their preferred name and pronoun. A student's preferred name must be printed on school documents. Birth records and gender must be kept confidential.
- Students must be allowed to dress according to their gender identity.
- Students must have access to restrooms, locker rooms, gym classes, athletics, and other activities that match their gender identity.
Sue McBride, a teacher in Glen Rock, told USA Today that she believes the new guidance will be helpful in crafting supportive policies for transgender students. McBride is also president of the Bergen County Education Association.
“Every child deserves to feel safe in their learning environment,” McBride said. “One of the key jobs of any school district is to give students a safe space to learn and grow and these guidelines are a step in the right direction in doing that.”