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SALT LAKE CITY — On the heels of Salt Lake City Board of Education adopting an update to its gender inclusion policies and plans for transgender students and employees Tuesday, advocates say it is key that new policies and practices foster a sense of safety and belonging.
Robert Moolman, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, said “it is important that schools start to recognize that they have and always have had transgender and gender nonconforming students and staff in those spaces. It is important for all of us to recognize the importance of somebody being seen for their whole selves and being accepted for their whole selves.”
Holly Bell, equity and advocacy specialist for the Utah State Board of Education, said she encourages every school district and charter school board to develop a gender inclusion policy, “but there are very few out there.”
“That’s a potential liability for everyone, so it’s definitely better to have well-enumerated policies when we’re dealing with transgender issues,” she said.
The Salt Lake School Board moved the policy from a discussion item to its action agenda with little discussion and voted 7-1 to approve it.
Board member Katherine Kennedy said the update “brings some of our language into more current use and also allows our employees to participate in the protections that we’ve provided to our students.”
“We felt this is very important based on a couple of situations we’ve had in the district and we really want to make sure that employees have the same rights in terms of confidentiality and privacy as our students do,” she added.
Board member Melissa Ford said she hoped all board members had an opportunity to read the confidential student gender support plan and confidential workplace transition plan.
“I think this is a really good opportunity to have good conversations and making sure we’re taking care of students and employees. So I like the plans,” Ford said.
Bell said transgender students are at heightened risk of suicide, suicide ideation and self-harm, so policies and practices that protect students and families are highly important.
According to the 2019 Student Health and Risk Prevention Survey results for transgender students, 60% seriously considered attempting suicide during the past 12 months. Nearly 50% of transgender students reported they made a plan of how they would attempt suicide and more than 30% attempted to take their lives.
The survey is designed to assess adolescent substance use, anti-social behavior as well as risk and protective factors that can predict problem behaviors in youths. It is administered to students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 in most public schools in Utah every other year. Participation is voluntary and parents must give consent for their child to take the survey.
We felt this is very important based on a couple of situations we’ve had in the district and we really want to make sure that employees have the same rights in terms of confidentiality and privacy as our students do
–Katherine Kennedy, Salt Lake School Board
When a school is unprepared to help transgender students or there is no plan, officials noted, students may make unsafe choices that affect their emotional and physical well-being.
Bell said she happened to be conducting a training in school when she overheard a conversation among educators and administrators regarding a transgender student who needed to use the restroom but didn’t know which one to use “so he’s just holding it,” the educator said.
“It’s not OK for any of our students to feel like that,” she said.
Bell said as she observed the educators, she thought: “You guys are doing such a good job, because it was all about him, like what’s gonna make him feel safe.”
The policy updates include a “confidential student gender support plan” that addresses whether students want their gender identities disclosed and to whom; a safety plan that identifies adults students can go to if they feel unsafe; and determining whether a student or their guardian have requested on school registration materials a preferred name or pronoun.
The proposed plan would determine the level of support the student has from parents and guardians, and in cases when parents or guardians are not aware or supportive of the student’s gender status, how will the school handle communications from the school or when staff members need to contact parents.
The student plan also covers whether certain school activities, such as dances, Pride events or social justice units, “require consideration.”
The plan also specifies which bathrooms and locker rooms the student will use on campus and if the student requests additional privacy in restrooms or locker rooms, how field trips and overnight school trips will be handled and if the student plans to participate in extracurricular activities.
The proposed policy says “any student may express a need or desire for increased privacy in restroom or locker room usage.”
The policy also includes a plan of confidential workplace plan for transitioning employees.
Bell said she was “pretty darned impressed” with the Salt Lake district’s policy changes and plans.
Bell said she would share Salt Lake’s updated policy with other school districts or charter schools that want to create their own policies “so that people know what a good policy looks like. It’s a policy that protects our kids and their families.”
Moolman said he has observed Utah is “a very kind place and has a kind culture.”
Still, policies and practices must “first and foremost” focus on mental and physical health of transgender students and employees and that “the guidelines don’t cave to fear and misunderstanding and lack of education around these issues.” Moolman said.
Suicide prevention resources
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
- Utah County Crisis Line: 801-226-4433
- Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
- Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK