Vermont’s largest school district, the Champlain Valley School District, has passed a set of policies that affirm transgender and nonbinary students’ identities. The policies require schools to let trans students access school facilities, play on sports teams, and use pronouns and names that match their gender identity without informing potentially unsupportive parents.
The policies, which closely follow the trans- and nonbinary-inclusive guidelines issued by the state Agency of Education in 2017, were developed using “feedback from principals, school counselors, and nurses, students, and parents, along with staff from the Vermont Department of Health and Outright Vermont,” the independent state publication Seven Days reported. The school board unanimously voted in favor of the policies, which underwent two rounds of legal review and will affect the district’s over 4,000 students.
The three-page policy set allows trans students to determine how much information about their identities they want to share with others, including their parents. It also allows students to decide which names and pronouns they want teachers to use — and to retroactively change this information on past student records — without requiring a court order or legal name change.
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While students must be allowed to use bathrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities matching their gender identities, students who request increased privacy “will be provided with reasonable alternative arrangements,” such as a private area, a different changing schedule or a single-stall restroom, the aforementioned publication noted.
The district’s policies are more decisive in their wording than the state education agency’s. For example, while agency policies say trans students “should be” allowed to use bathrooms that match their gender identity, Champlain Valley School District’s says that trans students “must be permitted” to use them.
School board chair Angela Arsenault, who served on the committee that created the policies, said the policy could be challenged in court by transphobic and anti-LGBTQ+ groups like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). ADF regularly files lawsuits against any expansion of LGBTQ+ civil rights.
“We really do feel that we’ve covered our bases on the legal front, and are confident that the policy would hold up to any legal challenge,” she said.
Dana Kaplan, executive director of LGBTQ+ youth advocacy organization Outright Vermont, praised the new policies, noting that many school districts across the nation have sought to restrict trans and nonbinary students’ rights.
“[This is] an exciting moment where a district is coming out and saying, in no uncertain terms, ‘We want all of our students to be safe,’” Kaplan said. “Having really clear guidance in this day and age, when rhetoric is flying around and [there’s a] concerted effort to squelch the rights of young people… is incredibly important. I hope other districts will follow suit.”
The Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics also praised the school district’s policies, noting “[Our state] is not immune to attacks on transgender and gender diverse Vermonters… When students feel safe to express their identities across the gender spectrum, they will be more prepared to learn and thrive in school.”
An estimated 4% of the state’s high school students identify as trans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.