BUFFALO, N.Y. - A new gender identity policy will take effect immediately in the Buffalo Public Schools, creating consistent guidelines for transgender and gender non-conforming students in each building across the district.
The policy, which builds on protections already afforded under the Dignity For All Students Act, received school board approval on Wednesday night.
Will Keresztes, the district's Chief of Intergovernmental Affairs, said the policy is even more comprehensive than the basic state guidelines. The school district developed a Planning Guide for transgender and gender non-conforming students who may seek to use a restroom or locker room corresponding to their gender identity.
"The most valuable takeaway for parents -- and I'm a parent -- is the importance of sending children to school in a district that welcomes all students," Keresztes said. "And, I think from there, there are many details in the policy that cover a number of really important protections and rights that we want for our students."
Camille Hopkins, who in 2002 became the first employee of City Hall to transition, said the policy is long overdue and offers protections to students who are statistically more likely to be bullied.
"It's no special rights. It's equal rights," Hopkins said. "Parents don't have anything to fear."
The gender identity policy also clarifies how the district should handle confidentiality and record-keeping of student information.
The policy also includes the following passage, which provides students with alternative options:
"The District shall help assure privacy for all students and athletes in every locker room by providing private, enclosed changing areas, showers, and toilets for any student or athlete who desires them. The provision of private areas shall be made available to all students, transgender or not, in a non-stigmatizing manner; recognizing that all students have a variety of reasons for which they may prefer to change or shower in a private area."
The Buffalo School Board voted 8-1 to approve the policy. Carl Paladino was the only member of the board to vote against approval.
Multiple districts in Western New York have passed gender identity policies already. The Obama administration also issued a directive to public school districts in May, demanding they allow transgender and gender non-conforming students to use the bathrooms that align with their gender identity. President Obama argues that failure to comply would discriminate against certain students, thus violating Title IX. His administration has threatened to strip federal funding from districts that do not follow the directive.
The directive led to immediate legal action in more than a dozen states, including Texas, where the Obama administration plans to appeal a judge's ruling that blocked its new federal guidelines.