Five trends no elementary school head should miss: this is the assignment my colleague Mary Menacho gave me for my remarks to Elementary School Heads Association (ESHA) members and prospective members at a gathering earlier this month at Trinity School in Menlo Park, CA. I tweaked the focus from “trends” to “trending topics” to give myself the latitude to address issues on which there’s buzz, even if we’re not yet seeing considerable traction. So, one at a time, here are the big five from where I sit, along with a sixth topic that I believe we need to kindle.
We’ve been reading and writing about equity in independent schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for some time, particularly as it relates to gay, lesbian, and bisexual faculty, parents, and students. What’s new is the thinking about addressing the needs of the transgender child — and the fact that we’re doing so at the elementary school level.
In July, in “The next civil rights frontier,” the New York Times reported a ground-breaking case that paves the way for considering those needs in a broader framework than mere accommodation. According to the Times, under an agreement between federal civil rights officials and the School District of Arcadia, California, the district will “revise its policies and ensure that the student, who was born female but has since assumed a male name and identity, is treated fairly and like other male students.” The key phrase, “like other male students,” is cited directly from the settlement agreement.
Let’s be clear: This case suggests that separate-but-equal solo lavatories, locker rooms, and dorm rooms don’t meet the new standard. Instead, we need to give the child access to the venues of those aligned with his or her gender identity, regardless of physical attributes.
This particular student made the transition in grade five, and the case against the school district was brought when he reached grade seven. As I talk with heads of independent schools in my local region, I’ve learned of a transgender student in grade three and another in grade six. So, heads up!
Some helpful resources:
- Gender across the grades. Gender Spectrum. This website gives a good overview of the developmental needs of the transgender child and practical suggestions about building a healthy and welcoming school community.
- “Guidelines for schools working with transgender students.” Independent School, NAIS, Summer 2010. As of this writing, this is the most recent legal advisory on the topic from the National Association of Independent Schools.
- McGarry, R.A. “Respect, resilience, and LGBT students.” Educational Leadership, ASCD, September 2013. This new article gives a succinct summary of the sobering findings of GLSEN’s 2011 National School Climate Survey on the school experiences of GLBT students.
Photo: Veronica Louro