DOWNEY (AP) — A Southern California school district has settled a government claim that it discriminated against a transgender student who said she was forbidden to wear makeup, was harassed by other youngsters and was encouraged to change schools, it was announced Tuesday.
The Downey Unified School District agreed to give the teenager access to the same facilities and activities as other female students, including athletic tryouts and district-sponsored overnight events, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Without acknowledging any violations of federal law, the district southeast of Los Angeles also agreed to ensure that the middle-school student wouldn’t be disciplined “for acting or appearing in a manner that does not conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity,” according to an agreement that was reached on Oct. 8.
The district also will review and revise policies, if necessary, to ensure that transgender students have equal access to school activities; will train administrators about gender-based harassment and will add instruction on gender identity and discrimination to its curriculum, the agreement said.
The district worked with the federal agency to craft the agreement, Superintendent John Garcia said.
“It’s important not to lose sight that we’re talking about ... a child,” Garcia said. “And as a school district, we want to make sure that all of our children feel safe and comfortable and supported.”
The student filed a complaint in 2011 when she was in elementary school. She was diagnosed with gender dysphoria before starting kindergarten but continued to use her male name and use the boys’ bathroom until she reached the fifth grade, according to a resolution letter sent by the education department’s Office for Civil Rights to the district superintendent on Tuesday.
That school year, staff confiscated her makeup and made her write an apology letter “for making male students uncomfortable” by wearing it, the letter said.
The student also said she was discouraged from discussing her gender identity with her friends, and that she was frequently teased by other students on the bus, who called her “gay,” ‘’fag,” ‘’bitch” and “whore,” according to the letter.
The student said after she repeatedly reported the harassment, the school principal told her to sit at the front of the bus near the driver and some administrators suggested she transfer to a school where nobody knew she was transgender.
The student said administrators were more sympathetic at the middle school she attended for sixth grade, used her female name, and that she used the girls’ restroom and locker room without incident but still suffered some harassment from students.
There have been legal challenges across the country involving transgender students filing actions for the right to use facilities that match their expressed identities.
Last year, the Arcadia Unified School District in California agreed to train its staff on transgender issues to settle a complaint brought by a student prevented from staying with other boys during a school-sponsored overnight science camp.
Garcia said the Downey school district already changed its policies last year to comply with a new California law — the nation’s first — requiring public schools to let transgender students choose which restrooms they use and which school teams they join based on their gender identity instead of their chromosomes.
A bid to overturn the law failed last fall when backers failed to gather enough signatures to get the measure on the state ballot.
The San Francisco Unified School District has had a policy similar to the new state law since 2003. The Los Angeles Unified School District — the state’s largest — has had one since 2005.