Last week, the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era order that required schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their own gender identity.
The order now leaves the decision of whether transgender students can use the bathroom of their choice up to states and individual school districts, the New York Times reports.
As the Times points out, schools will see little immediate impact from the new edict—in August, a federal court in Texas placed an injunction on the Obama order.
Still, the Trump administration’s decision stands to reignite long-standing debates about civil rights in school communities. Amid the swirl of inevitable controversy, your school district will be expected to clearly articulate its position, and its thought process.
Before introducing new policies, controversial or otherwise, school leaders need to listen—to their students, their parents, and their community. When decisions are made, districts must effectively explain their choices, or risk being swept into more controversy.
A community-based decision
The last time transgender bathroom issues dominated the news was back in May 2016. Headlines trumpeted intense debate in schools across the country.
In Fort Worth ISD in Texas, Superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner announced that students would be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice.
The announcement touched off heated exchanges on both sides of the debate. While some in the community championed Scribner’s decision, others said it raised safety concerns and questioned a perceived lack of community input. The state’s lieutenant governor was so incensed by the policy that he called for Scribner’s resignation. He didn’t get it. But the controversy brought to light the importance of communication and community engagement ahead of potentially controversial decisions in schools.
At the time, we outlined 3 ways that school districts could avoid—or at least lessen-the blowback of potentially controversial decisions. In light of the Trump administration’s stance on transgender bathrooms, we decided to recap those ways for you here:
- Don’t let the headlines talk for you. When you don’t know what to say, sometimes the inclination is to say nothing at all. Don’t make this mistake. There are many issues that require deeper analysis. Let concerned parents and others know that you appreciate their feedback and that you’ll take every comment into consideration before making a decision. Staying in front of the issue helps you control the narrative, eradicates misinformation, and keeps the local headlines in check.
- Give community members multiple ways to reach you. Some community members will actively seek you out, but if all you do is wait for feedback, the majority of opinions will go unheard. Get a broader representation of community sentiment by actively seeking opinions through email, in the local newspaper, via surveys, on television, at special community meetings, and in other places where your community is likely to engage and respond.
- Make sure your decision is clear—and that you aren’t the only one who can speak to it. Once you’ve reached a decision, make sure you communicate it clearly and without ambiguity. If parents or other community members have questions, give them a platform to ask those questions and receive answers in public. Make sure you aren’t the only one in the district who can speak to your decision. Train administrators, teachers, and others to speak on the topic too.
You’ll likely be asked to answer a lot of questions in the coming days.
Not everyone will agree with whatever decision you ultimately make. But giving your community a forum to talk through these issues, and using that feedback to inform your thought process will go a long way toward helping them understand your position.
What does the president’s new order mean for your schools? What steps are you taking to engage your community in conversations about LGBT issues? Tell us in the comments.
For more on the topic, read Transgender policy changes highlight need for parent engagement.