The third-largest school district in the United States took a big step this week in protecting the rights of transgender students. Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, announced new policies Tuesday that allow transgender and gender nonconforming students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their identity, as opposed to forcing them to use facilities based on their biological sex.
Chief Education Officer Janice K. Jackson said in a news release the rules are aimed at ensuring every student and adult worker in Chicago's public schools enjoys a safe and respectful environment. The district encompasses about 392,000 kids in 660 institutions.
"CPS, like much of the country, has become far more aware of the needs and experiences of the transgender community, and it’s crucial for CPS guidelines to reflect our commitment to promoting safe and inclusive schools," she said. "These guidelines build on our commitment to fostering healthy and supportive learning opportunities across the district so that each of our students can reach their full potential.”
Other stipulations in Tuesday's guidelines state that teachers should use the name and pronoun students want, people who want more privacy can request single-stall restrooms, and no transgender people will be prevented from taking overnight school trips because of their identity. The rules cover children, staff, volunteers and school visitors, Reuters reported.
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This is not the first time Chicago has waded into the debate over how schools should treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. In 2014, the district said transgender students have to be afforded the same opportunities on sports teams as other students, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Last year, the nearby Palatine Township School District 211 was found to have violated a transgender student's civil rights when it barred her from using the general girls' locker room, according to the Associated Press.
Amid a nationwide debate over whether allowing transgender people to choose the bathroom they use violates others' privacy and safety, at least one Chicago educator said he is happy with the district's stance.
“Adolescents exploring their gender identities are often left feeling isolated and marginalized,” Spanish teacher William Kutney told the Guardian. “I hope these guidelines will help their exploration feel more accepted."