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July 20, 2015
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JP O'Hare

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Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students Guidance Document Now Available for School Districts

Document Provides Definitions, Illustrative Examples, and Resources to help Districts Foster Safe and Discrimination-Free Environments for
Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students

Note: The information below was released on July 20, 2015. A legal update and best practices framework document was released on June 12, 2023.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia today released the Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Guidance Document to school districts. The document, which has been transmitted to every public school district in the state, is intended to help districts foster an educational environment safe and free from discrimination for transgender and gender nonconforming (GNC) students. It includes information to help districts comply with local, state, and federal laws concerning bullying, harassment, discrimination, and student privacy, and meet schools’ obligation to provide all students with a safe and inclusive environment.

“The important thing we must do is to keep children safe,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said. “Children cannot be expected to learn unless they feel welcome, safe, and comfortable at school. Every school should foster that kind of environment for all its students. This new document gives administrators practical guidance to ensure their schools are places where transgender and gender nonconforming students can focus on academics, friendships, and their interests instead of worrying about how they will be treated by school staff and their peers.”

“All students need a safe and supportive school setting to progress academically and developmentally,” Commissioner Elia said. “The Education Department is committed to providing all students, including transgender and gender nonconforming students, with an environment free from discrimination and harassment. We have a moral responsibility to foster civility in our schools, and to ensure that every student has equal access to educational programs and activities. This document will help schools make that a reality for all of our students.”

Nationally, and in New York State, transgender and gender nonconforming students are targeted with physical violence and experience a hostile school environment at a higher rate than their lesbian, gay, and bisexual peers. Over the past several months, the Department has worked closely with advocacy groups and key stakeholders to prepare the New York State Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students Guidance Document. This Guidance Document will be used by school boards and administrators to develop school procedures and district policies related to transgender and gender nonconforming students.

The document provides guidance on using pronouns and handling issues like restroom and changing room use. The scenarios presented are all based on real-life examples from New York-based students and schools and the document will complement existing resources available from the New York State Education Department relating to the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA).

The Department is charged with the implementation of DASA. Since 2010, when DASA was signed into law, the Department has amended and promulgated the Commissioner’s Regulations, released several guidance documents to the field, and created the Dignity for All Students Act Task Force to develop guidance and curriculum. This latest document addresses the needs of transgender and gender nonconforming students, who, pursuant to the Dignity Act, are entitled to educational programs and activities free of bias-based discrimination and harassment.

Statements from Stakeholder Groups and Advocacy Organizations


“We applaud the State Education Department for providing guidance so every school in the state knows how to follow the law and protect the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming youth,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman, which released the report “Dignity for All?” in June. “Too many New York youth have faced relentless harassment and discrimination in the schools that should have nurtured them just for being who they are. We look forward to working with the state to ensure that transgender students have the same rights to an education that all kids are entitled to in New York.”

Empire Justice

“Empire Justice Center is proud to be a contributor to the development of NYSED’s gender-inclusive guidance document, a crucial new resource that will help reduce gender-based discrimination and harassment in our state’s schools. The document provides useful examples and guidelines to school districts on how to support transgender and gender nonconforming students and comply with relevant federal, state, and local nondiscrimination laws—guidance that is particularly important for students in Upstate New York, where there are fewer supportive services for this population.”—Julia Sáenz, Esq., Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellow, Empire Justice Center

Empire State Pride Agenda

“Empire State Pride Agenda is proud to have worked in collaboration with other advocates and The New York State Department of Education to create these new guidelines, which will offer our schools a much-needed map pointing the way toward a safe and supportive educational environment for transgender students, and will help schools provide those students with the same educational opportunities as every other child. At a time in which an epidemic of transgender teen suicide is sweeping the nation, a safe educational environment doesn’t only ensure kids a chance to learn – it absolutely saves lives. As coordinator of the LGBT Health and Human Services Network, the Pride Agenda has extensive firsthand knowledge of the struggle students and schools alike have had in trying to address the needs of transgender students without a clear, statewide policy, because Network organizations have been absolutely overwhelmed with requests for help, training, and guidance. We look forward to working with our partners and stakeholders to take the next steps to ensure that every child in New York has access to a safe, quality education.”—Eòghann Renfroe, Manager of Transgender Education and Advocacy, Empire State Pride Agenda

New York State School Boards Association

“School boards believe strongly in creating a safe learning environment that protects students – all students – from harassment and bullying of any kind. This guidance document will help school officials better protect transgender students, who are often misunderstood and vulnerable.”— Timothy G. Kremer, Executive Director

School Administrators Association of New York State

“The State Education Department’s draft guidance document pertaining to transgender and gender nonconforming students addresses an important, sensitive matter in a respectful and helpful manner. We strongly support the stated intent of the document: “ to help school and district administrators continue to take proactive steps to create a culture in which transgender and GNC students feel safe, supported, and fully included, and to meet each school’s obligation to provide all students with an environment free of harassment, bullying and discrimination.” The content of the document includes requirements, research and statistics, real examples, alternative courses of action and other resources in a way that is clear and helpful. Just as importantly, the document recognizes that schools and districts should adopt a flexible, case-by-case approach in this area, with paramount consideration directed to the health and safety of each student.”—Kevin S. Casey, Executive Director, School Administrators Association of New York State


“NYS PTA strongly supports provisions of the Dignity for all Students Act (DASA) and the education department’s efforts and guidance to help assure that all schools provide an educational environment in which all students, including those who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming feel safe and secure. As local school districts design their own policies in response to current regulations and these guidelines, we urge them to be sensitive to the needs of all students and fully engage families and communities in their efforts to respond to state standards and local needs.”—Bonnie Russell, NYS PTA President