N.Y. Governor: Education Department Must Enforce Transgender Student Law
New York's education department must enforce a law designed to protect transgender students and monitor schools' compliance with its provision, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote in a letter to acting state Education Commissioner Elisabeth Berlin over the weekend.
The state law, the Dignity for All Students Act, was passed five years ago to protect students from harassment and unfair treatment on the basis of actual or percieved gender identity and gender expression. Cuomo called for greater enforcement after the New York ACLU released a "truly disturbing report" detailing violations of the law.
"Your department is tasked with ensuring our children receive a quality education, and a significant part of this responsibility is ensuring they have a safe and harassment-free environment where they can learn and grow," Cuomo wrote in his letter. "I demand that you take any and all necessary action to address the failures outlined in this report. Towards that end, I expect a written plan of how you will achieve this presented to my office within seven business days. "
Because of a lack of central enforcement of the state law, schools around the state have created ad hoc policies related to transgender students that are often "insufficient, illegal and deeply damaging to transgender and gender nonconforming youth," the New York ACLU said when it released its report.
Some of those local policies call for medical proof of gender transition before schools will make accommodations, students who don't conform to gender norms are often cited for inappropriate dress code violations, and schools occasionally "out" transgender students by refusing them access to bathrooms that match their gender identity, the report said.
"The NYCLU's analysis of statewide data ... shows that incidents of harassment involving gender stereotypes (i.e., harassment related to a student's sex, gender or sexual orientation) were the most commonly reported incidents of harassment in public schools," the organization said. "During the 2012-13 school year, New York schools reported 24,478 incidents of harassment under the Dignity Act, 19 percent of which were related to gender stereotypes."
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