This month, NJSBA entered its 102nd year. No one would dispute that the issues facing boards of education today are infinitely more complex than they were in 1914. In fact, many of the challenges involved with funding, collective bargaining, academic standards, and student rights did not exist a century ago.

Today, student rights have come into even sharper focus as a number of school boards consider policy on the topic of gender identity. To help our members ensure that their district policies reflect legal requirements of non-discrimination and equity for transgender students—and, in fact, for all students—NJSBA’s Policy Service has developed a sample document, “Gender Identity and Expression, 5145.7.”

The topic is not totally new, even though a number of school boards have been grappling with the issue recently. Our sample policy was developed by NJSBA staff attorneys and policy consultants in the fall of 2014, as the result of requests from our members. It addresses current statute and court decisions that apply to New Jersey schools, and has earned compliments from several advocacy groups.

New Jersey Commissioner of Education David Hespe recently shared his thoughts on the need for school boards to address the issue of gender identity through policy.

“A positive school climate where all students feel welcome and respected is a key to fostering learning,” he said. “This principle applies equally in respect to gender identity. In order to accomplish this, districts should take the opportunity to review their policies and use current events as teachable moments for the school community.”

Some of us may not feel completely at ease addressing this topic. But that does not relieve us of an important duty. Affirming non-discrimination and equity through policy is at the heart of a school board’s responsibility to ensure an environment in which all students can thrive.

As NJSBA enters the second year of its second century, we are also focusing our training on safe, secure and non-threatening school climates. Coming soon are two important programs:

  • The Pressure of Perfection, May 12, will address ways that schools can help students cope with intense academic pressure. Our keynote speaker will be Dr. Maurice Elias of Rutgers University, one of the nation’s leading experts in school climate.

I hope you and members of your district staff are able to attend these informative programs.

And I urge you to reach out to the NJSBA Policy Service for information and guidance on student gender identity and expression, as well as all critical policy areas.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected].

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