The Oregon Department of Education first released guidance to school districts on how to support transgender students in a 15-page document in 2016.
The department’s director Colt Gill said at the time, Oregon was one of the first states to share guidelines around respecting student identities in records and in the classroom.
Seven years later, the landscape nationally and locally has changed. As Oregon LGBTQ+ youth report feeling accepted in their communities, they are also impacted by local and national attacks on their humanity.
Now ODE officials have published an update to the 2016 guidance. Supporting Gender Expansive Students guidance for schools is 43 pages, and includes resources for school districts and families.
The new document expands the guidance from transgender students specifically to serving all gender expansive students. “Gender expansive” is a term used in the document to describe a range of gender identities, including transgender, nonbinary, intersex, genderqueer and Two Spirit. The guidance also includes more information about filing discrimination complaints and expands on existing guidance related to school activities. It also addresses instruction in classes like PE and sex education, including the limits of the state’s opt-out policy for sex ed.
Gill said the new document is a resource to remind LGBTQ+ students that they have federal rights protecting them.
“We want to reaffirm that and make sure school districts are aware of what their legal responsibilities are, and what some best practices are,” Gill said.
The request for the updated guidance came from students, as well as parent and school district requests, and came together with input from community organizations, students and staff across the state.
“Across the state of Oregon, as has happened nationally [...] we have seen our gender expansive students and educators and administrators hatefully targeted, whether it’s the classroom, in school board meetings, in public libraries, at LGBTQ kinds of events and field trips,” Gill said.
“There are many many stories from the past year plus of experiences that our students are having that are letting them know that in their place of learning that is publicly paid for, that they aren’t feeling welcome.”
The newly-released guidance is part of the state’s LGBTQ2SIA+ Student Success Plan, signed into law by the legislature in 2021.
“We see the release of this guidance as a way that we are implementing the LGBTQ2SIA+ student success plan because of the ways that these supportive actions can then prevent harm from happening, and as really part of that positive, joyful work of supporting students as they are in our schools,” said Angie Foster-Lawson, the state’s coordinator for the plan.
Foster-Lawson and others at the state will continue helping school districts with making schools supportive for LGBTQ+ students, whether it’s in helping create a more inclusive curriculum, working through situations that school leaders may be unfamiliar with, or helping school staff seeking support.
The guidance also features examples based on real scenarios shared by school districts.
ODE Civil Rights and Title IX specialist Kate Hildebrandt said sometimes the state reaches out proactively to school districts too, if they hear from a student or parent about possible discrimination.
“We work with them one on one to see what kind of support is available,” Hildebrandt said.
ODE collaborated with community organizations around the state in creating this new guidance. But the guidance was not received well by everyone.
One group, Oregon Moms Union, shared the guidance in a Facebook post and asked for more of a focus on academics.
The group has advocated for more parental involvement in schools.
“ODE is failing our kids. They should be focusing on academics to help all of our students succeed!” the post read.
Part of Thursday’s guidance and resources includes information on filing complaints and holding districts accountable for supporting students. In Oregon, there are a couple of ways to file a complaint: either through the district or through the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. If students or parents don’t agree with a school district decision, they can appeal to the Oregon Department of Education.
This upcoming legislative session, ODE is asking for lawmakers to require school districts to have civil rights coordinators, as well as additional funding to address complaints.
“We want students to know that Oregon law is supportive of them, we want gender expansive students to understand that this is for them - that they deserve to have support, success, and belonging in school,” Hildebrandt said.
“They can ask for support from their schools and districts, and that they deserve to have a wonderful, joyful, inclusive experience in their education, when they play sports, in everything that they do.”