NP schools revise transgender, field trip policies

NP schools revise transgender, field trip policies

NORTH PROVIDENCE – An updated North Providence School Department policy seeks to protect transgender, gender nonconforming and transitioning students in the district.

As they learn more about these terms, district leaders said they sought to update policy language to ensure that students who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming are not discriminated against.

The policy was first introduced in 2016, when the Rhode Island Department of Education first released a set of guidelines for creating safe and supportive schools for such students.

State and local school leaders say the need is there. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation found that 42 percent of gender nonconforming youth report being frequently or often excluded, and that more than half said they did not participate in school activities out of fear of discrimination.

Research has also concluded that such students are more likely to be diagnosed with depression compared to those who are not transgender (50.6 percent versus 20.6 percent, according to the Journal of Adolescent Health), suffer from anxiety (26.7 percent over 10 percent), attempt suicide (17.2 percent over 6.1 percent) and engage in self-harming behaviors with lethal intentions (16.7 percent over 4.4 percent).

In North Providence, Assistant Supt. Louise Seitsinger said an effort has been made to update the language and definitions included in the district’s transgender student policy.

The word transgender refers to people whose gender identity or expression is different from that traditionally associated with their assigned sex at birth. Transition is the process in which a person goes from living and identifying as one gender to living and identifying as another.

The language also protects gender nonconforming students, or those whose gender expression differs from stereotypical expectations, including those who identify “outside traditional gender categories” or identify as both genders.

Seitsinger said she has been working with attorney Ben Scungio to modernize the district’s 2016 policy to include those three categories and “definitions to really reflect our current school culture and today’s society.”

The revised policy includes terms such cisgender, nonbinary and agender.

“As we learn more we’re trying to be respectful and sensitive to our students’ needs today, and to make sure we’re adhering to everyone’s rights legally,” she said.

Smoke-free schools, field trip policies revised

The transgender policy is one of a number of policies the district has been taking a second look at this year to ensure that the language is as updated as possible.

Another such policy is the district’s smoke-free schools policy, which was updated last month to include vaping and e-cigarettes, which Supt. Joseph Goho said were “currently a big problem.”

The previous policy only included traditional tobacco products and has been revised to include more modern language. Goho said he contacted the state and used its model smoke-free schools policy to draft a new policy for North Providence.

Now, “it includes traditional tobacco but also electronic cigarettes and vaping; issues we are dealing with now with our students. It provides guidelines for schools in terms of how to address the issue and be proactive with education.”

Goho said when students are found in violation of the policy, the consequences would be “a combination of support for those students, communication to the families, and also punitive action should the student continue.”

The “big push” with the policy, Goho said, is attempting to “appropriately educate our students and then provide them with remediation support and cessation programs should they be found utilizing any of these dangerous products.”

Goho said he was also concerned with people smoking during outdoor school events, noting that he saw a number of people smoking on school property during a recent pancake breakfast event.

“I think we have to reiterate to people using our facilities that that can’t happen,” he said.

The district is also taking a look at its current field trip policy after the state department of education determined that it’s illegal for schools to charge fees for student field trips.

That determination sparked a furor across the state, with school districts wondering how to handle field trips moving forward.

North Providence has not taken a firm stand on the issue, determining that RIDE’s field trip policy was only a recommendation.

Seitsinger said the language of the district’s policy was updated but that the bottom line is that “no student would be barred from a field trip. If there’s a financial need we support them. It was always this way.”

While some districts took a more extreme stance, Seitsinger said the language in North Providence was kept mostly the same.

Comments

Kudos to North Providence for protecting children!