Palo Alto school district eyes new gender-identity policy | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto school district eyes new gender-identity policy

Proposed action aims to more fully support transgender, gender non-conforming students

The Palo Alto school board will discuss next week a new policy aimed at ensuring the protection of the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students.

The proposed policy, titled "Gender Identity and Access," seeks to "promote the healthy development and safety of all students including transgender students by maximizing inclusion and social integration while minimizing exclusion and stigmatization," the policy reads.

The policy is the product of more than two years of work by the district's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQQ) committee, which is made up of administrators, staff, teachers, parents, students and representatives from local community organizations such as Outlet, a LGBTQQ+ program at Adolescent Counseling Services.

The committee crafted the policy based on state and federal law as well as other school districts' policies, drawing primarily from the Berkeley Unified School District. The Berkeley school board passed its policy in late 2013.

The San Francisco Unified School District adopted a transgender policy more than a decade ago. The Los Angeles Unified School District adopted a policy in 2005.

In June 2014, the Palo Alto Unified did adopt a new administrative regulation following the passage of AB1266, a California law that ensures transgender students have access to facilities and activities based on their gender identity.

The administrative regulation on nondiscrimination/harassment outlines several rights for transgender and gender non-conforming students -- the right to privacy as well as support during a social transition at school, to determine their own gender identity, to access facilities and activities based on their gender, to change their name and pronouns in student records and to have district staff address them by their preferred name and pronouns.

The LGBTQQ committee has been working since before the passage of AB1266 to develop a policy that is more comprehensive and inclusive than this administrative regulation, particularly to protect students who identify as non-binary, defined in the proposed policy as "an individual whose gender identity or gender expression falls outside or in between the category of male or female."

The school board's policy-review committee, chaired by Vice President Heidi Emberling, considered the new policy in September and heard from parents of transgender children. One parent, who serves on the LGBTQQ committee, cited the results of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network's 2013 National School Climate Survey in advocating for the new policy. The survey found that LGBTQQ students in schools with a policy that "specifically enumerates both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression" were less likely to hear negative remarks about gender expression -- 41.7 percent compared to 57.6 percent of students who attend schools with a generic policy. Students at schools with a comprehensive policy were also more likely to report that staff intervenes when hearing homophobic remarks, the parent noted.

Although a majority of students surveyed had an anti-bullying policy at their school, only 10 percent reported that their school had a comprehensive policy in place.

The proposed policy requires schools to accept a student's "asserted gender identity" and call them by their preferred name and pronouns. The National Climate Survey found that 42 percent of transgender students had been prevented from using their preferred name.

Under the new policy, schools would not be allowed to request any medical or mental health diagnosis or require a treatment plan to have a student's gender identity recognized. Students are also not required to give their schools a court-ordered name or gender change in order to have their requested name and gender identity recognized.

The school district in September implemented a change within its online student information system, Infinite Campus, to include new fields to differentiate between legal name and gender and preferred name and gender.

Yet even when names and pronouns are changed in school records, there are other areas where legal names and genders might appear and potentially "out" students, the policy notes: "pre-printed labels, standardized tests, student IDs or library cards, lunch tickets, school photos, notices from the main office, attendance slips, grade books, posted lists of student names, lesson plans, seating charts and roll sheets used by substitute teachers, and any other places where students' names are commonly written."

Under the new policy, the district would maintain an official, permanent student record with the student's legal name and gender that appears on the student's birth certificate. The policy urges schools to keep this record in a secure location to protect student privacy. If a student or parent presents the school with documentation of a court-ordered legal name and/or gender change, the school must then change the official student record in a timely manner, according to the policy.

Schools would also be required to honor transgender students who transition after graduation and to change their diploma or transcript to their current name and gender.

The policy also instructs school personnel to not accidentally "out" students who might not be out in other settings or with their parents.

"Care must be taken to protect student privacy," the proposed policy reads. "School personnel should not assume that a student who is 'out' in some contexts (e.g. within a classroom) is 'out' everywhere (e.g., on a sports team). School personnel should also not assume that a student who is 'out' now (e.g. in middle school) would still want to be 'out' in the future (e.g. high school)." (Read: [On privacy, early intervention and medical advances

The policy also urges schools to avoid separating students by gender in the classroom and other activities, like the formation of teams in physical education class or selecting dance partners.

The parents in attendance at the board policy meeting in September urged board members to think about the policy as a way to systemically require more proactive provision of accommodations for transgender and gender non-conforming students -- and as a first step toward further education and training around LGBTQQ issues.

"This policy is important, but it's only a piece of what's needed to create a safe environment for our LGBTQQ students," the parent of the transgender elementary-aged student said.

Members of the LGBTQQ committee have said one of their priorities this year will be to advocate for enhanced teacher and staff training and the introduction of more LGBTQQ-specific curriculum in Palo Alto Unified.

The LGBTQQ committee is also developing a resource guide for the community with additional information and guidance for parents on how to answer students' questions around these issues.

Emberling and Ken Dauber, who also serves on the board policy committee, responded positively to the draft policy in September.

What the policy makes clear, Dauber said, is a "fundamental commitment to nondiscrimination and non-harassment.

"One of the concerns that I've heard expressed is that, absent this kind of guidance, we get into a discussion about balancing where balancing isn't appropriate because we're talking about the rights of children to an education free of discrimination."

Wendy He, the board policy review committee's new parent liaison, asked how the district would plan to disseminate such a policy -- along with the proper education that other parents in the community might need to fully understand it.

"If I were not in this meeting I would probably very much not understand and be against it immediately," she said. "It takes education."

Superintendent Max McGee suggested asking the PTA Council to distribute the policy, if approved, to parents. McGee said he planned to discuss the topic with both high school faculties at a professional development day in October.

"We're also talking about a culture change that needs to happen across the community and that's not easy," said Brenda Carrillo, the district's director of student services and chair of the LGBTQQ committee. "The education piece will be very important not only within our staff and for our students but for all parents to have those really important conversations, I think, is something we're going to have to put some thought into."

Related content:

Transgender youth navigate difficult path in quest to be who they are

Gender terms and definitions

On privacy, early intervention and medical advances

Outlet offers LGBTQQ youth a place to be

• [Stanford Children's Health begins to offer transgender health care

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4 people like this
Posted by some initial thoughts & questions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2015 at 10:41 am

I applaud the energy and effort that went into this important issue and PAUSD should take the lead on this.

That said:

These new rules aren't limited to gender identity; they are about all bullying, harassment, discrimination etc. That dilutes its impact IMHO.

Why is lots of prior PAUSD work being thrown away?

PAUSD hashed its general bullying, harassment, and discrimination rules out with the OCR, got its sign off, and spent a ton of taxpayer dollars doing that just a few years ago.

PAUSD also already approved detailed transgender and gender-nonconforming students rules that cover much of what is in these "new" rules. Web Link

Parents take note: the new rules say that PAUSD will investigate and punish you if you aren't nice to students, on campus or off, too. What will it do to parents who aren't nice, I wonder?

27 people like this
Posted by Sara Armstrong
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 8, 2015 at 12:13 pm

Sara Armstrong is a registered user.

There are a number of interrelated and complementary policies that, together, strengthen the protections for students. Prior PAUSD work NOT is being thrown away. What is being considered are enhancements and additions to what we already have. There are NO changes at all to the Bullying Policy (AR 5131.2) -- that stays as is.

You misunderstand the Scope section when you assert "the new rules say that PAUSD will investigate and punish you if you aren't nice to students, on campus or off, too". This is not about not being "nice". The policy language protects children from harassment and discrimination.

To the details:

There are 3 Board Policies (2 w/corresponding Administrative Regulations) that are related to this topic and were considered by the Board Policy Review Committee at their meeting on the 30th. Of those, 2 are going forward to the full board this coming Tues., and the other will go back to the BPRC for further review.

The related policies are:
* BP/AR 5157 on Gender Identity and Access
* BP/AR 5145.3 on Nondiscrimination/Harassment
* BP 5145.7 on Sexual Harassment

BP and AR 5157 are new. They are meant to replace the section on Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming students in existing AR 5145.3 (the AR you linked to). While they assert the same basic protections (both are motivated by AB1266, the Ca law that affirms the rights of students to access facilities and participate in activities based on their gender identity), AR 5157 is more inclusive (e.g. recognition of non-binary and intersex students and more definitions), provides deeper context (explaining the importance of providing and destigmatizing the use single stall facilities for increased privacy) and offers more explicit guidance on district best practices.

5145.3 is our existing BP/AR on Nondiscrimination/Harassment. There were no changes to the BP, but, as mentioned above, staff recommends replacing that one section with the deeper, fuller guidance provided by 5157. Our district also takes guidance from the California School Board Association (CSBA) sample policies. Between the time the LGBTQQ committee submitted their recommendations and the BPRC meeting, the CSBA updated language to 5145.3. So, the BPRC did not move this BP/AR forward to the full board, pending further review of the new CSBA language.

5145.7, Sexual Harassment, is also an existing BP, and the BPRC added one additional example to the list of prohibited acts that amount to sexual harassment. "Unwelcome or demeaning conduct or comments of a sexual nature directed at or about an individual related to actual or perceived gender, gender identity, gender expression, sex, sexual behavior, sexual orientation or other related personal characteristics." Transgender and gender non-conforming students are the victims of sexual violence at much higher rates than the general population, so calling that out in our Sexual Harassment BP is important recognition of that unfortunate fact.

Hope that helps clear up your confusion about what is under consideration.

Like this comment
Posted by some initial thoughts & questions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2015 at 3:11 pm


You said "Prior PAUSD work NOT is being thrown away... What is being considered are enhancements and additions to what we already have" i.e., the new rules would provide more definitions, more context, and best practices.

Lots of that. The current gender ID rules are 2 pages. The new ones are 11.

"There are NO changes at all to the Bullying Policy (AR 5131.2) -- that stays as is."

But "bullying" is mentioned throughout the proposed rules so bullying is being changed (enhancements are changes too). I don't recall how much those bullying policies cost taxpayers - 10s of thousands if not $100,000 - and took PAUSD years to get them approved, so they must have been complicated. Have the folks who approved them last time - OCR, state agencies, attorneys - seen and signed off on these changes or enhancements yet?

As for PAUSD parents who discriminate or harass, how will that work?

Under the proposed policy PAUSD will be required to investigate parents and impose penalties if it determines that they stepped over the line, on campus or off.

Does PAUSD have the resources to do this? It can hardly keep up with the work already on its plate.

Even if it did have the bandwidth, what can PAUSD do to parents who discriminate? Suspend their kids? Blacklist them? Sue them?

24 people like this
Posted by Sara Armstrong
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 8, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Sara Armstrong is a registered user.

Right, there are more details in 5157 than the original 5145.3 section.

Yes, bullying is mentioned, just like it is in a number of other BP/ARs. Notice that they often cross-reference other relevant policies/regulations so people can look up the details. The idea is that we don't need to redefine what bullying is, or reinvent a process for reporting harassment: we have existing BP/ARs for that and simply reference those. Like I said, neither the Bullying policy, nor the definition of bullying, has changed.

District staff and the district attorney reviewed and revised multiple iterations of the language to be consistent with our existing policy/regulations and Federal & State law.

The language states that the district will investigate allegations of harassment or discrimination pursuant the existing Uniform Complaint Procedure. The very same mechanism you allege "cost taxpayers - 10s of thousands if not $100,000 - and took PAUSD years to get them approved". The process for investigations is the SAME as it would be for allegations of harassment/discrimination based on race, religion, ability, etc.

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Posted by some initial thoughts & questions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2015 at 4:08 pm

My questions about parents are not about the process, they're about

Bandwidth - if staff is too busy to get stuff done now, how will they have time to educate, monitor, investigate and penalize parents too?


Penalties - what can the district do to a parent who violates this district policy off campus say? Staff acting improperly can be terminated and students can be given detention or suspended, but those things don't apply to parents. What will it do to them?

16 people like this
Posted by Seriously?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2015 at 4:31 pm

[Post removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by @Seriously?
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2015 at 4:41 pm

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by some initial thoughts & questions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2015 at 5:38 pm


[Portion removed.] I said that I applaud the energy and effort that went into this important issue and PAUSD should take the lead on this.

Do I think parents should not discriminate? Yes.

Do I think there should be consequences if they do? Yes.

That said, the surest way to get a good project discarded is being deflecting, calling folks names, and not being able to answer basic questions about it.

9 people like this
Posted by Parent in the District
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 8, 2015 at 6:02 pm

@ Some:

Regarding your concerns:

Bandwidth: Yes, the teachers and staff are incredibly busy. Many district and staff members themselves are championing this policy update as the district has a legal responsibility to provide a safe and welcoming environment to all of our students. What an amazing opportunity we have to be on the right side of right.

Penalties: Though I don't know the specific penalties a parent might encounter, the main point is to let our community know that everyone should provide a safe and welcoming environment no matter the race, the religion nor the gender identity.

12 people like this
Posted by Sara Armstrong
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 8, 2015 at 6:13 pm

Sara Armstrong is a registered user.

Regarding bandwidth -
Yes, staff must ensue that all children have equal access to a safe educational environment. They should investigate allegations of harassment based on gender identity or sexual orientation with the same commitment as they would allegations of harassment based on race, religion, etc. The ultimate goal is to foster a culture in our district so as to greatly reduce/eliminate the incidence of harassment of all kinds. Training and education are key components to creating such a culture. My sense is that the staff are committed to that. BTW - the LGBTQQ Committee is working on a handbook with further information and ideas for supporting LGBTQQ students.

Regarding penalties -
I am not aware of any past or current allegations of *parents* harassing/discriminating against students from which to draw any specific examples of the types of remedies available. (I imagine if there were such incidents, they would be confidential.) In any case, my point is because we are using the same mechanism as any other complaint (UCP), the range of remedies for how to address such complaints would be the same.

Parents/guardians in our district often volunteer in the classrooms, during field trips, chaperone school events, etc. They are an integral part of our school community. I think most people understand that they are expected to behave in a respectful and responsible manner toward all students, regardless of their own personal beliefs or opinions might be.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2015 at 4:28 am

The section about not "outing" a kid to family or others seems like an unrealistic goal. How is a peripheral staff member or volunteer supposed to know who the student is "out" to? Then add that identity may change over time and not mess that up? Respect and kindness can go a long way but applying a legal responsibility onto a broad group to keep track of all of this just really seems destined to fail. Gender pronouns are built into the English language. Trying to policy them out won't work.

6 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 9, 2015 at 6:46 am

To answer "some initial questions": This isn't a discipline policy, it is an anti-discrimination policy. If a child suffers discrimination or harassment as the result of a another parent's behavior, then it is the school's obligation to act to prevent future discrimination. That can mean educating the parent (most likely), or if that doesn't work, barring the parent from the volunteer activity, etc. that is the source of the problem. That isn't something that is specific to this policy or transgender or gay students, it is true of all discrimination. This is also true of teachers and other students. Discipline is not required to be part of the response, unless it is required for other reasons (for example, the behavior violates the teacher's obligations under employment rules).

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2015 at 7:20 am

Provided this policy does nothing to upset the every day lives of the regular, straight, or whatever the pc term is, student, then that is fine by me.

However, as far as parents are concerned, I am bothered. I have been called to school to give my child a Tylenol for a headache. I can't send them to school with cough sweets. It seems that parents have absolutely no say in any of this, when in other aspects we are expected to treat our high school students like toddlers.

Parents are still the ones who have to be in charge of the health matters of their child. But some common sense, please.

4 people like this
Posted by This is only a Test
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 9, 2015 at 8:07 am

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by some initial thoughts & questions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2015 at 8:17 am


I just did a quick doc compare and this proposal does change PAUSD's bullying, sexual harassment, and nondiscrimination policies.

The proposed Gender ID Policy echoes what you say that discrimination, harassment or bullying based on gender ID will be handled the same as for others BUT the proposed Regulations then effectively re-write some of those rules:

Sexual Harassment

from the current policy (unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which relates to academics, district programs or district activities) (BP 5145.7)


any "unwelcome or demeaning" conduct or comments, school related or not (proposed AR 5157, for all students)

Bullying and Nondiscrimination rules

from the current OCR approved

-bullying policy (requires conduct to be "severe and pervasive" and reasonably certain to cause harm) (BP 5131.2)

-nondiscrimination policy (prohibits, at any district school or school activity, unlawful discrimination that is so severe or pervasive that it affects a student at school) (BP 5145.3)


any "unwelcome or demeaning" conduct or comments (proposed AR 5157, for gender ID students)

I get and support that detailed gender ID guidelines are advisable to help our community better understand the challenges students face and fully hope and expect that PAUSD will make safe spaces and work to make all students proud instead of apart.

But, as a matter of strategy, why dilute this much needed effort by reworking PAUSD's already approved, extensively debated, and very expensive policies when that will re-direct the conversation away from where its focus should be which is on the specific needs of gender ID students?

9 people like this
Posted by PA parent 2008
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 9, 2015 at 8:54 am

PA parent 2008 is a registered user.


I appreciate that the section explaining how school staff are not permitted to "out" a student might in theory seem challenging, but in practice it's actually very doable and has been in practice for years. Protecting student privacy re: sexual orientation, medical conditions, gender identity, etc. is nothing new. In fact, it's been the law for years that school staff are not permitted to "out" a student re: sexual orientation or gender identity. This gender identity policy is explaining that law. Here's a link that further explains this law: Web Link

My transgender child is "out" at school but not at after-school classes on school campus. This was decided by myself and the school principal after an after-school class instructor wanted to discriminate against my child. The principal and I feel this is the best way to protect my child against discrimination. There are other transgender students who switch schools within the district so they can be private about being transgender at school. PAUSD staff is doing a wonderful job protecting these students' privacy.

Protecting a student's privacy regarding gender identity can be, even in Palo Alto, a matter of safety. Transgender youth face very high rates of harassment, sexual harassment and assault. Not to mention discrimination. Not every transgender student wants to be "out" and fighting all those battles, every day. Nor should they be.

Furthermore, not every parent supports their transgender child. Many transgender youth are thrown out of their homes or abused after coming out to their parents. Yes, even here.

Like this comment
Posted by outsider
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2015 at 8:58 am

outsider is a registered user.

The term On campus or Off is difficult. No other bullying is enforced "off campus" and social media bullying is off campus. Pretty tricky stuff. Paly admin usually claims things off campus as not their problem, but with schoology, these kids are able to interact nights and weekends and often have to to perform labs and projects in groups online on the weekends or nights. What is the rule to focus this very large gray area as now with internet school contact happening 24 hours a day?

4 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2015 at 9:20 am

outsider is a registered user.

to parent 2008.

I think it is difficult for all the students to decide on their sexual identity and I fell that things can change sometimes and that it is a private matter for all the kids and their choice. I never understood why anyone would care about other's choices and always am really sad to see such bullying. One of my best friends who is 60 now would have loved to not hide his true identity. He has had years of therapy and pain trying to be something he is not. I would not wish this on anyone.

I know my daughter had a difficult time with all the streakers and being asked out by a girl. My son went on a trip and was exposed to boys who were in love and rooming together. He slept in the tub. A friend asked her how to shave his legs so he could wear a dress.They did not expect this, but are kind of nice so are approachable. My advice to them has been to love all of them and just be good friends to everyone. Enjoy the fun differences and realize they may seem like weirdos themselves. That said, I do wish there were not so many discussions about sexual orientation as it does seem kind of an awkward conversation and one that parents should get to have, not teachers. I know people trust teachers at PALY, but I think parents know their kid's maturity level and what conversation to have with them at what time better than some random teacher with a script.

7 people like this
Posted by PA parent 2008
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 9, 2015 at 10:45 am

PA parent 2008 is a registered user.

This is shifting the conversation away from the gender identity policy and from transgender students (sexual orientation is different from gender identity). But I don't think any student is too young to learn to respect all types of families, whether that's a family with 1 parent, a step parent or 2 moms. Students are also never too young to learn to respect each other and school staff, at least while at school, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, etc. It's a teacher's job to teach our children to be respectful of others while at school.

It's the law that sex education be LGBT inclusive. Our LGBT students have the right to learn sex education that's appropriate for them. I also believe that curriculum shouldn't exclude a group of people, whether that be people of color, people with disabilities or LGBT people. That said, while you say "I do wish there were not so many discussions about sexual orientation," it's my understanding that LGBT people and issues are rarely (if ever) included in curriculum, so I'm not sure what discussions you're referring to that are taking place at school.

2 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2015 at 12:15 pm

outsider is a registered user.

I am sorry, I do not really have all my jargon up to date. I think we agree that all kids need to be treated fairly and parents probably know the maturity level of their kids.(?) I just worry that when kids get labeled it makes the other kids see it is not normal when it is very normal. I am not sure if kids would even notice if the adults did not point it out. Glad to see it all addressed and also so glad to see the open attitude in expressing needs.

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