ITHACA, N.Y. — The Ithaca City School District and Tompkins County Office of Human Rights have sent out a joint statement reassuring the community that transgender students will be protected in schools.

They issued a statement this week in objection to the decision by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to withdraw federal guidelines regarding transgender students in schools.

In late February, the Trump administration reversed federal guidelines issued by the Obama administration last year created to protect transgender students from discrimination and allow them to use school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities.

The Obama-era guidelines were controversial in several states. In August, a nationwide injunction was issued that kept transgender students from using school bathrooms and other facilities that correspond with their gender identity.

The previous guidelines interpreted that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 applied to discrimination based on gender identity, not just gender.

By removing the federal guidelines, it falls back on states to create guidelines and interpret Title IX.

Transgender students do have protections in New York, the joint statement by ICSD and the Office of Human Rights reminded the community. Transgender students are protected by the state’s Human Rights Law, by its Dignity for All Students Act and the New York State Education Department “Guidance to School Districts for Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment For Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students.”

New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act requires all school districts in New York to prohibit discrimination and harassment, on school property or at a school function, on the basis of a student’s gender identity or expression, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a news release.

The joint statement by ICSD and the Office of Human Rights encourages all school districts in Tompkins County to join the effort to make sure transgender students are safe in schools.

“Please know that we remain committed to the vigorous support for a student’s right to be respectfully treated according to their gender identity and to be free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying. We encourage all school districts in Tompkins County to join the effort to ensure transgender kids are safe in our schools and are provided equal access to all programming and facilities consistent with their gender identity,” the ICSD and Office of Human Rights joint statement said.

The statement was signed by Karen Baer, director of the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights, superintendent Luvelle Brown and Sean Eversley Bradwell, ICSD board vice president.

Read the full statement below:

The Ithaca City School District and Tompkins County Office of Human Rights strongly object to the recent decision by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to withdraw crucial guidance that helped clarify federal legal protections for transgender students in school settings. We would like to address parents, students, teachers, and others who are rightfully concerned about what this means for them, their transgender loved ones, and our entire educational community.

In May 2016, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education released historic guidance for the nation’s schools on the needs and rights of hundreds of thousands of students who are transgender. The guidance summarized over a decade of case law and best practices from across the country, advising schools that under the federal Title IX law, schools should treat transgender students according to their gender identity. Title IX is the federal law that makes it unlawful for schools receiving federal funding to discriminate based on sex.

In response to the withdrawal of federal guidance, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia issued a joint reminder that—whether federal guidance exists or not—transgender students in New York State are protected by the State’s Human Rights Law, its Dignity for All Students Act, and the New York State Education Department “Guidance to School Districts for Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment For Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students.” The guidance recommends that school districts take proactive steps to ensure compliance with DASA, and provides specific recommendations with respect to many of the same topics that were addressed in the federal guidance that has now been withdrawn, including names and pronouns; sex-segregated programming and school facilities; and student privacy and confidentiality.

Attorney General Schneiderman has given assurances he will vigorously enforce New York law which requires all school districts in New York State to prohibit discrimination and harassment, on school property or at a school function, on the basis of a student’s gender identity or expression.

State Education Commissioner Elia says, “Transgender youth are valued members of our schools and communities across New York State, yet statistics show that more than half of them will attempt suicide at least once by their 20th birthday. We must do everything in our power to create learning environments that are safe and welcoming for all.”

At the County level, the Office of Human Rights proposed a local law in June 2015 in order to re-establish local enforcement powers for discrimination based on gender identity and expression in Tompkins County school districts. This local law, in its entirety, is under review by the Tompkins County Legislature.

Please know that we remain committed to the vigorous support for a student’s right to be respectfully treated according to their gender identity and to be free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying. We encourage all school districts in Tompkins County to join the effort to ensure transgender kids are safe in our schools and are provided equal access to all programming and facilities consistent with their gender identity.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.