Evanston Township High School Superintendent Eric Witherspoon says there’s been no change in the school’s policies regarding transgender students as a result of the federal government’s decision this week to rescind guidance issued last year on the subject.
Witherspoon says the school will continue to Support transgender and gender-expansive students while it evaluates whether to update existing board policies.
Here’s the statement he issued Friday.
Evanston Township High School District 202 is committed to creating a safe, affirming, and healthy school environment where every child can learn. We recognize that students are inspired to learn and achieve to the best of their ability when they feel visible, welcomed and respected in a supportive environment that embraces all of their identities.
On February 22, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education jointly issued a statement rescinding the guidance issued last year on transgender* students’ rights to use public school restrooms that aligned with their gender identity. While this decision leaves schools with less federal guidance around restroom access for transgender students, it makes clear that “schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment.”
In addition to federal and state law that protects students from bullying on the basis of gender-related identity or expression, current District 202 Board Policy prohibits all forms of bullying, intimidation and harassment of a student by another member of the school community, including on the basis of “gender identity; gender-related identity or expression” (see Board Policy Section 7 – Students 7:20). We also have Board Policy that ensures equal educational and extracurricular opportunities will be made available to all students, and this includes sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity (see Board Policy Section 7 – Students 7:10). These policies are aligned with and support the expectations of the Board’s Equity and Excellence Statement to provide “all students with resources, opportunities, supports and interventions to ensure that they achieve their full potential.”
ETHS already has many practices in place that align with these existing Board policies to help ensure the safety, comfort, and wellbeing of students who are transgender or gender expansive. In the 2015-2016 school year, school personnel along with the Board’s attorney initiated an ongoing process to consider whether to recommend updates to the existing Board of Education policies to 1) more specifically address the needs and concerns of transgender students; and, 2) confirm practices already in place at the high school. These current practices include, but are not limited to:
- Preferred Names/Pronouns: Grade-level teams advocate for students to be addressed at school and in extracurricular activities by a name and pronoun corresponding to their gender identity.
- Official Record Change: Students and their families have the right to request a change to the student’s name and gender listed in the student record by following the required steps.
- Gender-Neutral Transcripts: ETHS does not use gender identity on official school transcripts.
- Access to School Facilities: Students have access to the multi-stalled, gendered restrooms that correspond to their gender identity consistently asserted at school. Any student who has a need or desire for increased privacy, regardless of the underlying reason, is provided with access to any of the five single-use, all-gender restrooms throughout the high school.
- Physical Education & Sports Participation: Currently, the ETHS freshman Physical Education course is gender specific. Students may either enroll in the freshman P.E. course that is consistent with their identified gender identity or that course aligns with their sex assigned at birth. For sports, students can follow ETHS athletic guidelines and Illinois High School Association rules to participate on a team consistent with their own gender identity.
- Student & Family Engagement: ETHS supports and affirms LGBTQ individuals, family members and allies through student groups such as the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, regular and family nights like the LGBTQ+ Family/Incoming Freshman Information Night. The school’s Parent Ambassador program provides all parents with a space to share their unique perspectives about student identity with school staff and other families.
- Staff Professional Development: The District provides opportunities for staff members to receive training on student identity, including gender identity and sexual orientation, and how these identities intersect with race. Many of these trainings are coordinated by ETHS staff and student groups, such as the LGBTQ+ Staff Advisory Committee, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, and Students Organized Against Racism. The Principal communicates expectations with staff to ensure that practices are implemented schoolwide.
- Gender-Neutral Communication: The District strives to use gender-neutral pronouns in all new publications and communication, and works to revise all existing publications and communication to eliminate gender-specific language.
The decision of whether or not to update existing Board policy to further address the needs of transgender and gender expansive students at ETHS is still under consideration. We continue to monitor federal and state law and ongoing federal court cases, as well as current practices in school districts across the nation, including the Chicagoland area where districts are choosing to create and maintain guidelines and procedures that are aligned with existing Board policies. The Board Policy Committee will have the opportunity to discuss how the District is serving transgender students at its next committee meeting on March 16 at 8 a.m. in room E112.
We have been working proactively to create a school culture that respects and values all students and fosters understanding of gender identity within the school community. We’ll continue to work collaboratively with ETHS students and families, staff, LGBTQ advocates and experts, our attorneys and the District 202 school board to determine what additional benefits, if any, a separate Board policy might achieve to support transgender and gender expansive students. In the meantime, we are well equipped to support, protect, and respond to the needs of each transgender or gender expansive student at ETHS with the practices and Board policies already in place.