Yesterday, the Trump administration rescinded two federal guidance letters—issued in January 2015 and May 2016, respectively, under the Obama administration—on transgender students’ rights and public schools’ legal obligations under Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972. This is a major step backward in the march toward equal rights and a troubling message to transgender students, but it does not change the law: Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex, which means that transgender students cannot be excluded from restrooms or otherwise denied equal educational opportunities because of who they are. This was the case before the administration issued the guidance, and this remains the case after.
Yesterday’s decision centers mostly on the guidance issued in the May 2016 letter. This guidance—jointly issued by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice in their “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students”—informed public schools that they have a legal obligation to treat transgender students according to their gender identity. Schools were instructed, for example, to let transgender students use school facilities (such as bathrooms and locker rooms) that match their gender identity; to ensure that school staff and contractors use transgender students’ preferred pronouns and names; and to take prompt and effective steps to address school-based harassment and bullying against transgender students.
Looking back at the issuing of the guidance in light of yesterday’s news, it’s important to remember three key details.
First, in 2016, the Departments of Education and Justice determined that not treating transgender students according to their gender identity would constitute a violation of Title IX—a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools receiving federal funding. The withdrawal of the 2016 guidance by the Trump administration does not change Title IX itself; transgender students still have the right to attend public schools that treat them consistent with their gender identity, as most lower courts have agreed.
Second, the guidance was well received by many education stakeholders. In fact, the National Association of Secondary School Principals—faced with concerns about the mental and physical health of transgender students—had requested comprehensive federal guidance on this student group. And other key stakeholders—the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of School Psychologists, the American School Counselors Association, the National Parent-Teacher Association, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers—gave the guidance their support.
However, the guidance did not go unchallenged: In May 2016, 11 states filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration, calling for rescindment; in August 2016, a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction, preventing the enforcement of the guidance. The debate and division over how Title IX applies to transgender students has continued into this year, as evidenced by yesterday’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue in June of this year in a case involving a 17-year-old transgender student who sued his school board over its bathroom policy.
Third, the guidance reflected existing best practices in some states and school districts for supporting transgender students. In tandem with the issuing of the “Dear Colleague” letter, the Department of Education released “Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students,” highlighting practices from across the country.
Considering the impact of this new decision, the National Center for Transgender Equality highlights some pressing concerns in its just-released FAQ resource:
[T]aking the guidance away will likely make school harder for many students. The guidance gave students and their parents a powerful tool to advocate [for] themselves, and it gave schools much-needed practical information about implementing good policies. Taking away the guidance could lead schools to be confused about what their responsibilities are under federal law, and it might make changing policies at unsupportive school districts an uphill battle for many students. And unfortunately, the harmful message sent by the Trump administration’s rollback of the guidance could encourage some students, staff, and administrators to bully and discriminate against transgender students.
We know that transgender students are already the targets of misinformed understandings about transgender identity, bullying and discrimination; any uptick would be worrisome. For example, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey shows that more than 77 percent of K–12 respondents who were out or perceived as transgender had one or more negative experiences at school, such as facing a discriminatory or non-inclusive dress-code policy, or being verbally, physically or sexually assaulted.
We also know, in an atmosphere of widespread intolerance for transgender individuals, many mental health experts, child health experts and education leaders have been working for years to build safe, inclusive schools that can adequately serve trans students.
The work to build welcoming and affirming schools for transgender students is not undone by the Trump administration’s rescindment of the 2016 federal guidance. But the work needs to continue; schools can and must continue to support transgender students with or without the explicit support to do so from the Trump administration. Transgender students need to know that their schools still intend to protect them.
There are ample how-to resources, rooted in research and best practices, available to school practitioners. A good starting point is to read the FAQs resource on the withdrawal from the National Center for Transgender Equality. Learn what the withdrawal does and what it doesn’t do, specifically as it pertains to transgender students’ rights under Title IX.
Next, consider consulting these resources:
Being There for
This Teaching Tolerance magazine story looks at how educators can help transgender students thrive and succeed at school.
Schools in Transition: A Guide to Supporting
Transgender Students in K-12 Schools
The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Gender Spectrum led the effort to produce this comprehensive guide, joined by Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Education Association.
Model District Policy on Transgender and
Gender Nonconforming Students
This resource from GLSEN and National Center for Transgender Equality puts forth best practices and recommended policy language.
and Caring for Our Gender-Expansive Youth
This report from the Human Rights Campaign and Gender Spectrum highlights how gender-expansive youth self-identify and offers suggestions for how adults, including educators, can best support them.
for Gender-Expansive and Transgender Students
Centered on creating inclusive environments for transgender and gender-expansive youth, this set of resources comes from Welcoming Schools, a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
As you work to support transgender students, keep in mind—and work to implement or uphold—the following “big-picture” best practices:
The experiences of LGBT youth vary greatly. Lumping LGBT experiences together is a mistake. For example, transgender and gender-nonconforming youth often face more hostility and bullying at school than their lesbian, gay and bisexual peers.
Supportive school staff can make all the difference. One educator can make a difference—but the goal is building an inclusive and welcoming school.
All students have the right to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. A transgender student should never be forced to use alternative facilities to make other students comfortable.
Respect the names and pronouns transgender youth have chosen for themselves. If you don’t know—ask. Model that respect in front of all students and colleagues.
Mentorship is instrumental for trans students’ success. When possible, seek out or establish a trans-to-trans mentorship program for students. Adult mentors can serve as a crucial support system for trans students and provide models for what it looks like to live life as a transgender person.
Curriculum and instruction play a big part in supporting trans youth. Including transgender figures and narratives in the curriculum helps ensure that trans students do not feel alone. Paying attention to and affirming non-gender-binary identities in student work is also very important.
Always trust and defer to transgender youth. If you are a non-trans-identified adult, don’t question what your trans student is going through. Follow their lead and provide your continued support along the way.
Be aware of bias—your own and others’. Uncover any transphobia and personal bias you may hold. Learn to recognize and interrupt gender-identity-based bullying and harassment.
Lindberg is a writer and associate editor for Teaching Tolerance.
Have you ever said or done something and later regretted it? Or have you ever driven somewhere and, once you arrived, had no recollection of driving there? Have you ever planned out what you were going to say instead of listening while someone else was speaking? Of course you have; we all do these things. We spend much of our lives in our heads thinking about the past or future instead of living in the present moment. But guess what? The present moment is where much of the good stuff happens!
Surely, at times, there is good reason to live in the past or the future. While life is full of good stuff, it is also full of uncertainty. With uncertainty come anxiety, stress and imbalance.
Fortunately, there is a tool that can help you live in the moment and manage the negative emotions that can come along with it: Mindfulness—awareness of the present moment— supports practitioners by providing insight while going through those ups and downs.
About 25 years ago, I took a mindfulness course designed to teach people how to get out of their own way. It helped. A lot. But once the class ended, I let my practice lapse. My days were always so busy with to-do lists and responsibilities. Who had time to sit and do nothing? Yet, 15 years later, when a colleague mentioned the kids she worked with at a Title I school were living with incredible turmoil, my immediate reply was, “They need mindfulness.”
Why Bring Mindfulness Into the Classroom?
Mindfulness is not just for stressed-out adults. Mindfulness creates readiness to learn, a proven, major predictor of academic success. In 2007, as part of Park Day School’s Community Outreach Programs, in Oakland, California, a few community members and I decided to try out the idea that kids living with serious stress might benefit from mindfulness.
The first lesson was taught by a man with decades of mindfulness experience in a third-grade classroom at a Title I school. The session lasted 15 minutes and consisted of ringing a bell three times. The first time, the students just listened to the bell. They loved the long, enduring sound of a gorgeous chime. The second time, he instructed the students to listen to the bell with their eyes closed, and he asked them if they heard a difference between the first and second time. The third time, he prompted them to raise their hands when they could no longer hear the bell. The fourth time, he asked them to listen to “no bell,” just the ambient sounds in the room. At that point, an 8-year-old raised his hand and said, “I think if we do this every day, we aren’t going to fight anymore.” That lesson and comment helped contribute to a growing movement to bring mindfulness into schools.
After more than 40 years of experience, I believe mindfulness should be taught daily in every classroom, from preschool to grad school. When kids learn mindfulness, they learn to pay attention. Also, practicing mindfulness promotes impulse control because we create space between how we feel and what we do about it. When we realize we are angry, instead of acting on that anger, we recognize it and create space to make wise choices. This is the basis for good classroom management. The benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction have been researched and proven for decades; teachers and students benefit equally from less stress in the classroom and in their lives. Finally, because mindfulness makes us aware of our own emotions and those of others, students and teachers become more empathetic. This creates more kindness and compassion, resulting in stronger communities. Our hearts send many more messages to our brains than vice versa, and taking time to pause, makes it much easier to pay attention to our hearts.
Fortunately, opportunities to practice mindfulness in the classroom abound. Three models exist:
- Teachers take courses to learn mindfulness themselves before teaching their students;
- Mindfulness teachers can teach your students;
- Digital audio programs enable teachers to learn mindfulness with their students.
The movement is well on its way. I’m hopeful that, sooner than later, mindfulness will be taught every day in every classroom in the country.
Click here for a list of research articles that outlines some of the benefits of mindfulness in the classroom.
Grossman, the director of program development and outreach for Inner Explorer, is the co-author of Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress and the co-founder of Mindful Schools.
The Atlantic: “The school is a place of welcome for teenagers who are refugees, asylum-seekers, and other recent immigrants. The aim is to give students who speak little English—and often had little formal education in their home countries—the skills to graduate from high school and thrive in the U.S.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer: “Ohio schools dole out up to 36,000 suspensions to elementary students each year —a number that stunned a Republican lawmaker into seeking a ban on many suspensions and expulsions.”
CNN: “‘The DOJ should be a champion for all students’ civil rights and by signaling a willingness to be bound by the injunction nationwide they ae [sic] certainly signaling they aren’t intending to pursue civil rights for transgender people.’”
The Huffington Post: “[Artist Erica] Deeman then wondered, if she created images depicting black men in a more dignified light, would they have the power to shatter expectations with no firm footing in reality?”
Mark Maynard: “I was being silenced, it seemed, because it was not okay to make a female of color feel safe if it also meant that a white male would be made to feel uncomfortable.”
National Public Radio: “‘In looking at this issue, people seem to want a quick solution to fake news, but I’m not sure there is a solution (at least an easy one). … Students need to recognize that these skills and ideas need to stay with them through adulthood.’”
The New York Times: “To talk about how we got where we are today, we have to start with slavery and see how the justice system took over as a system of social control.”
The New York Times: “What makes someone American? How do you define American identity? When do you feel most American? Or least?”
Teen Vogue: “Jackie was born in the United States, which automatically makes her a citizen. But her mom was born in Mexico. That difference, and its consequences, might appear obvious for young adults, but Jackie got a crash course in immigration law while she was still in grade school.”
Vox: “‘Kids were sobbing, especially immigrant children, saying they were going to get sent back to Guinea, Senegal, Yemen. They were totally distraught.’”
The Washington Post: “Now, ICE knows exactly where to find [Jeanette] Vizguerra. The question is whether they will enter a church to retrieve her.”
If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put “What We’re Reading This Week” in the subject line.
“Black lives matter at school.”
This affirming—and crucial—statement marks the agenda for today, February 17, 2017, in Rochester City School District. Students, educators, support staff, administrators and community partners are coming together to observe “Black Lives Matter at School: A Day of Understanding and Affirmation.”
In a letter to families and students, Rochester City School District explains the event’s purpose: “This day was created to affirm the lives of black children, who represent the majority of students we serve, and to promote understanding that will strengthen our community. Racial equity will not happen unless people are willing to talk about race, and this day is one important step in that process.”
That understanding—the need for schools to affirm black students and move toward racial equity, in part, through dialogue around race—was central to the efforts to establish “Black Lives Matter at School” in the district. In November 2016, a small group of teachers, administrators, parents and community organizers, including local Black Lives Matter activists, formed a committee. Their objective: to create a day of action for educational communities to “grappl[e] with the past, present and future status of [b]ack lives in our nation” and to “affirm that [b]lack lives matter in all of our lives.”
One member of the organizing committee is Chris Widmaier, a high school educator and a 2016 recipient of the Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching. Widmaier says the day’s programming is a response to a couple of different incidents.
“One, our entire boys' varsity soccer team [at World of Inquiry School #58] took a knee at a soccer game during the national anthem,” he says, “and [that] sparked a conversation within our school and in the news and in the community about that action.” Widmaier addressed the protest as a teachable moment with his students; yet he saw the need for a larger, district-wide response.
A few weeks later, on the other side of the country, schools and educators across Seattle Public Schools took steps to understand and affirm that black lives matter, garnering national news coverage. Widmaier says, “I had a couple of different parents and teachers and people that I … talk[ed] to about all of this, and it led to us saying, ‘Let's put together a meeting. Let's sit down, and let's see what can do about it.’
With its first meeting on the schedule, the newly formed committee got to work, seeking to address racial inequity in education systematically. Widmaier says, “We agreed, from the very beginning, Black Lives Matter is about self-determination. It's about black voices being out front. We knew that it was a tricky line … because we're trying to educate and help students that are black find a voice and find leadership. That's empowering rather than coopting.”
For Widmaier, who is white, the organizing committee itself provided a sustained space to engage in dialogue around race and racism, and to be critically conscious about what advocating for Black Lives Matter looks like in a district where, as of the 2015-16 school year, 59.3 percent of students are black and 75.5 percent of the teaching corps is white.
Early on, the committee drafted an organizing document with the key objective of establishing a district-wide day to affirm the value of black lives and the concerns driving the organizing agenda of the Black Lives Matter movement. This document, in turn, helped articulate the committee’s objective publically and helped engage community members. Widmaier says, “It's been a really open table and we really maintain this attitude of, ‘Anybody who wants to come to the table and participate, or just try to understand what we're doing better, is welcome to come and be a part of our organizing committee meetings.’”
The committee studied up on how to present a resolution to the Rochester Teachers Association (RTA), and then presented a resolution before the RTA’s Representative Assembly. This resolution states, “[S]chools should be places for the practice of equity, for the building of understanding, and for the active engagement of all in creating pathways to freedom and justice for all people.” It passed unanimously, with the RTA endorsing and encouraging district teachers to participate in a “day of understanding” that affirms that black lives matter at school.
Next, the Rochester Board of Education voted to adopt a similar resolution, making “Black Lives Matter at School” an official initiative of the district. Then, the Association of Supervisors and Administrators of Rochester passed a similar resolution. The district developed an instructional resource toolkit, communicated with staff and families, and offered professional development resources. At one of the professional development sessions offered, led by Widmaier, local Black Lives Matter activists spoke with teachers, followed by a group viewing and discussion of the Teaching Tolerance webinar Let’s Talk! Discussing Black Lives Matter With Students.
Today—the actual day of the event—the affirmation, dialogue, reflection and learning continues. Although participation among staff is voluntary, it’s expected that many classroom teachers and support staff will implement lessons or hold guided conversations around topics like race and Black Lives Matter. Some schools have organized book groups for teachers, with such titles as The New Jim Crow and For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood ... and the Rest of Y'all Too, that either kick off or culminate today. There’s also a district-wide art contest, “What Does Black Lives Matter Mean to You?” for students in grades 7-12, which some teachers are using as their main activity. And the organizing committee and district leadership have encouraged staff to wear visible affirmations, such as t-shirts, pins and buttons, to their workplaces.
Widmaier sees “Black Lives Matter at School” as a catalyst to build energy and momentum to affirm that black lives matter in Rochester—and everywhere else. “Versus some sort of mandatory racism training that we're pushing everybody to do one workshop,” he says, “this is more about people thinking about their own mindset, examining their own biases and taking action, working together to correct things we notice need to be corrected.”
Lindberg is a writer and associate editor for Teaching Tolerance.
On Wednesday, February 8, I woke up early to take advantage of my house’s predawn quiet for lesson planning. The day before, I had taken a social media break, something I am doing more often these days. When I checked Facebook, I came late to the news that someone had brought white nationalism to the forefront of the campus where I teach the day before.
As I read in horror, I had a conversation with myself that I have been having a lot lately:
I have no time for this.
I have no energy for this.
I have no choice.
So before the sun came up, I made the decision to throw out my plan for the day and dig deep into the story on my campus. I had no choice.
“Modify and adjust. Modify and adjust.” We learned these words in our education classes, in our first years of teaching: They are the pillars for the work we have ahead of us.
How do we modify and adjust when the news is shifting so quickly? When we are bound by prescriptive standards and curricula? When we feel fear of being accused of being “too political” in our classrooms? When we already do not have time to teach what we want to teach, need to teach and feel called to teach—all three of which can be competing on a daily basis?
Yet, we need to find space in our plans to address pressing issues of the day. We have no choice. As teachers, we are here to help students make sense of the world around them. We can find space to teach and discuss timely issues when we have to, like I had to do last Wednesday. It wasn’t a normal day.
Here’s how I found that instructional space: I used our campus as a text in tandem with the texts I had already been teaching. That day’s reading dealt with oppression and silencing—and the resistance people enact when they are oppressed and silenced. When I realized that I could connect the campus incidents with the texts I had assigned, I knew I had to learn more about the group that had hung their white nationalism hate on our campus—and specifically on top of the posters advertising our campus’s Vagina Monologues performances.
Now the sun was coming out. My daughter would be up soon.
I have no time for this.
I have no choice.
Texts are our foundation. When making the decision to modify and adjust, we have little time. We quickly ask: What texts are available to me?
Fortunately, a citizen media source had done a story about the white nationalist posters the night of the event. I was able to make copies of it and ask students to read it at the start of class. Only a handful of students had heard about the event, so I asked them to write a response to the story and gave them some space to process what had happened.
I then used the Twitter feed of the white nationalist group as a text. I wanted students to contextualize what happened on our campus as part of the larger narrative the group wanted to create. (I am purposely not naming them or sharing any of their materials, as I do not want to give them a platform.) I asked students to respond to these tweets and images and to do close reading of the posters.
Then I showed them the group’s official website. Students closely read the home page image, the language the group uses, the photos of the group’s leadership. We analyzed the group’s slogans and used them to discuss rhetoric and audience—and appropriation of language that speaks to diversity. I asked them to think about intersectionality and to complicate their responses with an eye toward gender analysis.
Finally, I showed them the group’s Facebook page, specifically the response to our campus’s photos of the incident. I asked them to talk about the dangers of someone on our campus hearing they are doing “God’s work” when spreading hateful images.
I had to find those texts and used them as a call to action for my students. I ended by asking them what they are going to do—because they wanted to do something. Some met with members of the administration. Others committed to supporting campus events. Some talked about the work they do to disrupt racism and sexism in conversation.
Later in the day, a story in the campus paper came out. My students already had the context, the critical analysis and the passion to help their friends make sense of what had happened on their campus only 24 hours before.
I think that Wednesday was one of the most important days of my teaching career. I modified and adjusted the day after the Columbine shootings. After 9/11. After white nationalism reared its ugly head in my community.
We never have time.
We never have a choice.
Clemens is the associate professor of non-Western literatures and director of Women's and Gender Studies at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.