Cape handles transgender concerns on case-by-case basis

Superintendent: Obama policy has no effect on district schools
June 6, 2016
Cape Henlopen High School addresses transgender issues as they arise, says Superintendent Robert Fulton. SOURCE FILE

President Obama's policy to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice has had no impact on Cape Henlopen schools, says Superintendent Robert Fulton.

“We had considered these issues before Obama made his decision,” Fulton said.

In a decision that has sparked national debate, the U.S. Department of Justice sent letters to school districts countrywide protecting the rights of transgender people under Title IX – a law once used to provide equal education and sports opportunities for women.

“A school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity,” the letter states. “The departments interpret Title IX to require that when a student or the student's parent or guardian, as appropriate, notifies the school administration that the student will assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records, the school will begin treating the student consistent with the student's gender identity.”

Complying with Title IX, including transgender rights, is a condition for a district to receive federal funds, the letter states.

So far, 11 states have filed lawsuits against the Obama administration over the policy outlined in the letter.

Delaware passed a transgender law three years ago. In 2013, Gov. Jack Markell signed a gender-identity nondiscrimination act into law to ensure legal protections for transgender individuals in Delaware. The law grants transgender Delawareans the same legal protections already granted to everyone on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation, according to a press release following the bill signing.

Fulton would not say how many transgender students attend Cape schools; the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects student information on sexual identity.

Fulton said the district handles situations on a case-by-case basis.

“As we have situations arise, we work through them and make sure students have what they need,” he said.

Fulton would not say how many times a situation has arisen. He also said there are no plans for unisex bathrooms or installing curtains in locker rooms for individual student privacy.

In Rehoboth Beach, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays offers support groups for parents of transgender children, and for transgender youth and transgender children. About 30 people attended a recent meeting, said Linda Gregory, president of the Rehoboth Beach PFLAG chapter.

She also said she does not know how many transgender students attend Cape schools. “The ones I do know, I can't out them,” she said.

Gregory said use of bathrooms is often an issue for parents but not students. She said Cape administrators are getting better at dealing with transgender issues.

“They are trying, but we're not there yet,” she said.

She noted Cape is not the only school district with transgender students. Indian River and Sussex Tech also have transgender students, she said.

“There's no way of telling how many there are,” Gregory said. “We can't blanketly say there are 10 kids because we don't know. Kids don't come out at the same time.The ages are from elementary on up.”

A recent Time magazine article estimated three-tenths of 1 percent of adults are transgender, or .003 percent. In a 2014 interview, Gregory said, a Sussex Tech survey indicated there were 80 to 100 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender students in the student body of 1,300.

But it's not about the number of transgender students, she said.

“We need to be kind and treat each other with respect,” she said.