The Scarborough Board of Education has given unanimous approval to a new transgender student policy designed to provide for the safety and protection of all students in the district, according to Donna Beeley, chairwoman of the board.

The school board gave approval to the new policy on first reading last week with little discussion and no comment from the public. This week, Beeley said the policy is “really just a formalization of the current guidelines,” which have been in place for a number of years.

Beeley did acknowledge, however, that the push to adopt a new transgender student policy this school year is based on the discussion and controversy at the national level, particularly in relation to the use of bathrooms by transgender people.

However, the new policy for the Scarborough schools reaches beyond just the use of bathrooms, and essentially states that “a student who has been identified as transgender should be addressed by the name and pronoun corresponding to their gender identity.”

The new policy also states that when schools separate students by gender for specific activities, “transgender students may participate in accordance with (their) gender identity.” In addition, the policy says that for dress codes at the schools, “transgender students may dress in accordance with their consistently asserted gender identity.”

Under the policy, gender identity is defined as a person’s “deeply held sense or psychological knowledge of their own gender. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the gender assigned at birth” and “involves more than a casual declaration of gender identity or expression.”

However a student identifying as transgender is not required to provide an official medical diagnosis. In addition, under the policy staff and teachers would be expected to be sensitive to and accommodate transgender students in a variety of ways.

At the same time, the policy adds, “School staff should be sensitive to the fact that transgender and transitioning students may be at higher risk for being bullied or harassed.”

Beeley said this week that implementing a transgender student policy is “what schools should be doing. We need to take a serious look and be proactive” about this.”

Beeley doesn’t know whether there are any students in Scarborough schools who are transgender, but said it would be naive not to realize that transgender people “have been part of our communities for a long time.”

In addition, she said, under a Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling from 2014, schools are not allowed to discriminate against transgender students, which is why it “just makes sense for us to make it clear what should be done” in Scarborough’s schools.

Sun Media Wire staff writer Alex Acquisto contributed to this report.

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