TRURO – Sam is a teenager. He’s biologically female but has adopted a male gender identity. Or maybe our hypothetical high school student, Sam, was born male but lives as a girl. Question: How should our schools accommodate the needs of transgender students?
“Right now there are no guidelines in place within CCRSB (Chignecto Central Regional School Board) that tell us how to specifically address the use of washrooms by transgendered students and staff,” emailed Debbie Buott-Matheson, spokesperson for the school board.
Buott-Matheson acknowledged the sensitivity of the issue, but said it will be addressed on a case-by-case basis until a board-wide policy is established. She said her board is the first in Nova Scotia “to actually move to the development of board-wide guidelines.”
At least one case within the board has already arisen. A biologically male student who identifies as a girl faced possible suspension from Hants East Rural High School for using the girls’ washroom. The school board, in consultation with the principal, withdrew the suspension.
When the spokesperson was presented with a fictional scenario – a transgendered student wanting to use a student bathroom at ARHS – she declined engaging in hypothetical scenarios.
“We trust the judgment of our administrators to support our students and to make decisions that are respectful of students’ rights.”
She elaborated in a further written exchange.
“A transgendered person doesn’t just ‘decide’ to become transgendered…(they’re) ultimately expressing and inherent, personal belief that their gender identity is different than their anatomical gender.”
Students should not be made to fit transgendered expression of their identity into one mold, she said. One transgendered student might wish to use a gendered bathroom and staff would work to meet that request.
“I can tell you that meeting that student’s request would not mean emptying the bathroom,” said Buott-Matheson.
Another might wish to use a gender-neutral bathroom.
“Again, we would work with that student to meet that request.”
The spokesperson pointed transgendered people are protected from discrimination under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. She acknowledged it’s not a new issue for broader society but it’s a new issue for the board and, she said, many school jurisdictions across the country.
“We are at the beginning of a very important conversation,” she said. “We may be late to that conversation by some measures but we are having it and we are committed to ensuring that the rights of all students and staff in our system are respected and upheld.”