Berkeley Unified School District policy protects rights of gender nonconforming students

Mark Coplan/Courtesy

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As school commenced for students across the Berkeley Unified School District last week, the district entered its fourth week of implementing a new policy aimed at protecting the rights of gender nonconforming students.

In the wake of Gov. Jerry Brown’s School Success and Opportunity Act, a bill that allows transgender students to participate in sex-segregated programs and use facilities according to his or her gender identity, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education passed the new policy at its meeting on Dec. 11.

The policy echoes much of the state act’s language and allows gender nonconforming students, such as transgender students, within the district to use the bathroom facilities of their choice, use whatever pronouns they prefer — including “they” and “themselves” — join the athletic teams of their choice and dress however they choose.

“It is important to have the new policy on the books because it reinforces the positive learning environment within the district,” said Tracy Hollander, president of the Berkeley PTA Council.

In order to ensure compliance with the new policy, the school board will educate the administrators about the new rights and make sure that the rights are implemented within the district, said Julie Sinai, the school board’s director.

“I want to be clear that there may be pockets (of disagreement), and our goal is to be supportive and to help them through their process,” Sinai said.

The school district began considering this policy after Brown signed into law last August Assembly Bill 1266, the School Success and Opportunity Act, which was implemented this year on Jan. 1, said district spokesperson Mark Coplan.

During the school board’s December meeting, Felix Beaudry, a transgender student at Berkeley High School, prompted the board to pass the new policy in order to support students like himself who are questioning or have questioned their identities.

“When I came out as transgender my sophomore year … I was in a supportive community, so people didn’t think that they had a say in which bathroom I used,” Beaudry said to the board. “Had there been an argument over which bathroom I was allowed to use, I would have been humiliated and had a more difficult time transitioning at school.”

Privacy for all Students, a coalition of parents, faith groups, students and nonprofits, however, has launched a referendum effort to overturn the state law and allow California voters decide whether the law should continue to exist. The coalition has gathered about 620,000 signatures on its petition supporting the referendum, about 115,000 more than required.

Regardless of what happens to AB 1266, the district’s policy will stay in place and remain unaffected, Coplan said.

“I find it really hopeful that those in Berkeley Unified are addressing the particular needs of students, including those who are transgender,” said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center.

Michelaina Johnson covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @MichelainaJohns.