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CMS Gives Transgender Students Choice Of Identity And Bathrooms

Tom Bullock

CMS has new guidelines on how to handle transgender students. It's up to these students to choose what they're comfortable with in regards to a slew of things, including bathrooms and locker rooms. 

Superintendent Ann Clark says the new guidelines have been a year in the making.

"We realized as a district that we needed to make sure that our transgender students had a safe and, I like to say, joyful journey in CMS," says Clark.    

  For a few years now, school staff had been calling up the district's central office asking for advice on how to accommodate transgender students. Clark emphasizes the timing has nothing to do with House Bill 2. She says CMS simply wants to give elementary, middle, and high schools some definitive direction.

"We really needed to provide guidance to our teachers and principals about how to support these students in the classroom and how they go through school. And, so, we've talked about dress code, use of pronouns, how to call roll," says Clark. 

If a transgender student is enrolled as "Sam," but wants to be known as "Laura," the name "Laura" would be reflected on the attendance sheet.

Boys and girls will no longer be separated unless there's a clear educational purpose. That's to make transgender students feel more comfortable. For example, in elementary school, there will not be separate boys' lines and girls' line to go to the cafeteria.

The regulation covers bathrooms and locker rooms too. It tells schools transgender students shall use the facilities of their choice. Any student, transgender or not, will be given access to a private changing area or bathroom, if requested.

"It's not a statement against House Bill 2. It's a statement for our kids," says Clark.

That may be the case, but it does violate the new state law. CMS Attorney George Battle says the district takes its power from a higher authority, federal law.

"Until and unless the decision of the fourth circuit is reversed by the United States Supreme Court, this will be the law for any educational institution – public, private, charter, or otherwise – in this state," says Battle.

That assessment makes sense to Bob Joyce. He specializes in education law at UNC School of Government.  Still, he says, the General Assembly can apply its own pressure.

"If it believed that a school system was acting inappropriately or school systems were acting generally inappropriately, it does have the power of the purse," says Joyce. 

Financial retaliation doesn't interest Republican Representative Dan Bishop of Mecklenburg County. He says he's done his part by sponsoring HB2 and getting it passed.

School leaders received a training session on the guidelines Monday. They heard about bathrooms, but also ways to give transgender students flexibility when it comes to single-gender classes, school ceremonies, yearbook photos, and some extra-curricular activities.

Myers Park High School Principal Mark Bosco has worked with transgender students to help make them feel comfortable at school. Still, he says the session was eye-opening.   

"It just allowed me to realize the complexity and how uncomfortable many of the routines and the things we just naturally do as a school may be for that student," said Bosco. 

By the time school begins in the fall, CMS plans to relay to all teachers ways to ease that discomfort among transgender students.

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.