According to the state of New Jersey, educators can keep students’ transgender identities secret from their families.
This new protection comes just months after the state passed three bills giving trans residents of Jersey more rights.
LGBTI advocates are celebrating New Jersey’s recent guidance. They say it’s putting the state among national leaders for protecting trans students from unaccepting families.
Still, some parent and family groups argue that schools shouldn’t be keeping such significant secrets from families.
‘We always have believed that any discussion that affects our students should be an all-inclusive discussion,’ Rose Acerra, president of the New Jersey PTA, told NJ.com. ‘[We] could never fully support anything that leaves the parent voice out.’
While parent involvement in a child’s gender identity is ideal, it’s not always a reasonable option, according to Aaron Potenza of LGBTI advocacy organization Garden State Equality.
‘If a student tells you, “If my parents hear this they are going to throw me out,” then we don’t want school districts notifying parents,’ Potenza said.
David Rubin, longtime school board attorney for New Jersey districts, is among a group of lawyers advising school districts in this instance. According to them, parents don’t necessarily need to be told their child’s transgender identity. Further, educators don’t need parental permission to embrace a student’s gender (such as using preferred pronouns) in school.
However, this new guidance is not legally binding. Rather, it’s the Education Department’s interpretation of a 2017 state law reinforcing transgender students’ rights. This means, though not legally binding, it will likely be respected.
‘It is something you can point to as at least some source of authority,’ Rubin said. ‘It provides guidance and cover for school districts who may have angry parents confronting them.’
Transgender children often face unaccepting families and hostile living situations. Discovery of one’s trans identity could lead to them being kicked out of their homes or even physically abused.
‘The sad reality is that too many transgender and gender nonconforming youth may be placed in further danger by schools forcefully outing them to unsupportive family,’ said Brenda Barron, director of public policy for LGBTI advocacy organization GLSEN.
Since the United States Department of Education began a rollback of protections for trans students, many school districts have been looking to their respective states for guidance.
‘School districts have been asking for this guidance for some time,’ said Department of Education spokesperson Mike Yaple.
New Jersey’s new guidance was drafted with the help of the recently recognized Transgender Task Force. It puts the state up with the dozen others who have sent school’s instructions for dealing with trans students.
‘I would put this up there with the best of the best,’ Potenza said of New Jersey’s guidance.