If you have any questions regarding transgender rights in Connecticut schools, contact one of our attorneys at (203) 221-3100.

Transgender Student Guidance

Earlier this year, the Connecticut State Department of Education (“CSDE” or “Department”) has issued updated guidance concerning the rights of transgender students in Connecticut schools. This new guidance document represents a significant revision of the Department’s earlier 2017 guidelines, incorporating recent developments in federal law.

The updated guidance tackles several topics and unresolved issues that were overlooked by the Department in 2017, introducing at least one significant change in interpretation. Below is an overview of the CSDE’s recommendations on these issues, along with other key points emphasized by the Department that Connecticut school leaders should take note of.

Preferred Names, Pronouns, and Gender Markers

The Department now asserts that according to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), “education records” can only be modified through an official FERPA request for correction or amendment made by a parent, guardian, or “eligible student,” defined as a student who is 18 years old or attending postsecondary education. “Education records” encompass all school-maintained records directly related to a student, including both paper and digital formats, as clarified in the new guidance.

The Department emphasizes that changes to education records must strictly adhere to FERPA procedures, requiring a formal request from a parent, guardian, or eligible student. Yet, the CSDE underscores that schools should not impose formal documentation or parental approval to acknowledge a transgender student’s preferred name and pronouns. Such requirements could potentially deny equal access to educational opportunities for transgender students.

Schools must carefully distinguish between “education records” governed by FERPA, such as transcripts and IEPs, which require formal FERPA requests for correction, and other records maintained independently by record makers which should be updated promptly upon a transgender student’s request. Furthermore, schools should honor requests from transgender students to be addressed by their chosen names and pronouns, even if these changes are not reflected in education records unless requested by a parent.

Additionally, the guidance clarifies that legal name changes are not obligatory for amending student records under FERPA amendment requests, affirming that only parents, guardians, and eligible students possess the authority to initiate amendments to education records.

Combating Discrimination and Harassment

The CSDE underscores that schools are legally obligated to promptly address and eradicate harassment based on a student’s gender identity or expression once such behavior is confirmed. To fulfill this duty, school districts should strive to cultivate safe and supportive environments for transgender students. Enhancing these efforts involves providing transgender students with resources, including identifying specific administrators and staff members who can serve as contacts for discussing concerns or incidents and offering support.

Given the CSDE’s guidance, school leaders should consider incorporating provisions in student handbooks and policy documents that designate appropriate administrative support for issues related to gender identity. Additionally, schools should explore various means to inform students about available supports and resources they can access.

Gender Dysphoria

According to the CSDE, students experiencing “gender dysphoria,” defined by the Mayo Clinic as discomfort or distress arising from a misalignment between one’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth or physical characteristics, may qualify for accommodations or services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 (“Section 504”), or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, 20 U.S.C. §§1400 et seq. (“IDEA”).

In accordance with the CSDE’s updated guidance, educators involved in the 504 and PPT (Planning and Placement Team) processes should consider including provisions ensuring that students experiencing gender dysphoria are referred to by their chosen name, pronouns, and gender markers aligning with their gender identity or expression in their 504 plans and IEPs. The guidance also introduces the term “gender diverse” in discussions about accommodating transgender students, using it interchangeably with “transgender.”

Parental Notice and Communication

Conflicts arising between students and their parents over student gender identity have posed significant challenges. Must school staff notify parents about a student’s gender identity issues? What if a parent opposes a student’s preferred name or pronouns at school, or disagrees with their expressed gender identity? Education law grapples with balancing parental rights in education against Connecticut’s mandate for schools to honor students’ gender identities independently of parental consent, creating a complex legal landscape.

Regarding whether schools must inform parents of changes in a student’s preferred name, pronouns, and gender markers, the new CSDE guidance clarifies that while no specific law mandates such notification, it is permissible and, in certain instances under Section 504 and IDEA, required by law.

Regarding parental requests for information about their children’s gender identity, the guidance points out that while there’s no state or federal confidentiality law covering this information, school leaders must prioritize students’ physical and emotional well-being when deciding whether to disclose such information to parents.

Gender Identity and Fluidity

The new CSDE guidance underscores that a consistent and unwavering assertion of a specific gender identity isn’t a prerequisite for legal recognition under the law. It acknowledges that gender fluid students may express themselves in ways that align with multiple genders, possibly varying from day to day, and asserts their legal entitlement to appropriate gender identity recognition, even if it diverges from traditional gender norms.

Additionally, the CSDE guidance stresses that documentation is not mandatory to establish gender identity. Rules or practices that mandate documentation before accommodating a student’s gender identity are likely discriminatory, including within the realm of athletics. It’s important to note that CIAC bylaws prohibit students from simultaneously trying out for sports teams of both genders and do not permit students to transfer from one gender-specific team to another during the same season.

Access to School Facilities

The new CSDE guidance reaffirms the Department’s 2017 stance on student restrooms, locker rooms, and related matters. According to Connecticut law, schools must provide transgender students access to school facilities aligned with their gender identity. If a cisgender or gender-diverse student requests a private bathroom or changing area, schools can accommodate such requests. However, segregating transgender students would violate their right to use facilities that match their gender identity.

Maya Murphy P.C. has proudly been included in the 2024 Edition of Best Law Firms®, ranked among the top firms in the nation. In addition, Managing Partner Joseph C. Maya has been selected to The Best Lawyers in America® 2024 for his work in Employment Law and Education Law in Connecticut. Recognition in Best Lawyers® is awarded to firms and attorneys who demonstrate excellence in the industry and is widely regarded by both clients and legal professionals as a significant honor.

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If you have any questions or would like to speak to an attorney about a legal matter, please contact Joseph C. Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or JMaya@Mayalaw.com to schedule a free initial consultation today.