New Transgender PIP Sparks Controversy


Most of us know what it is like to be excluded, whether it is being chosen last for teams in gym class or not being invited to hang out. However, we sometimes take for granted simple privileges such as finding a bathroom that we feel comfortable using. Transgender and non-binary students have struggled with this, among many other things, for decades in the public school system. Until recently, not much had been done to help. 

It is undeniable that young people now are generally more accepting of those of different sexual orientations and different genders on the spectrum than those of past generations. Due to this vast change in culture, many think the rules and regulations of the past should be updated as well. Part of this movement is Arlington Public Schools (APS), which is planning to enact a new Policy Implementation Procedure (PIP) regarding transgender and non-binary students before 2021. 

This plan was brought to the community on the night of June 18 this year at a School Board meeting where all attendees were given the opportunity to weigh in and give their opinions, which were varied. 

The policy focuses on fixing numerous issues, such as making gender neutral restrooms more commonplace in schools, addressing students by gender titles of their choice and even allowing all students to participate in gender-specific sports. 

I believe that APS was already a safe environment; however, there needs to be more done to ensure that the students feel safe and supported at school, even if they are not at home or in other environments,” Morgan Atkinson, a senior and co-president of the Gender-Sexuality-Alliance (GSA), said. “I was especially excited by the privacy and educational clause [in the PIP] that ensured the safety and privacy of gender nonconforming youth if they seek out the support of school staff, including counselors, teachers and other staff members.”

The adoption of the policy primarily seems to stem from a fear of parents and teachers being the perpetrators when it comes to discriminating against transgender students. 

“It is my opinion that this PIP is important to make sure that discrimination does not come from the adults. We are the leaders,” Walter Clark, a ministerial assistant at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, said, after attending the school board meeting. 

It is true that transgender students are facing intolerance every day in public schools, which takes its toll. Throughout modern American history, ever since being transgender has come into the limelight, the first famous case being Christine Jorgenson in 1952, they have faced ridicule. People have always had trouble accepting things they haven’t experienced themselves, so the transgender community being the vast minority has made it extremely hard for them to be understood and welcomed by the general public. Acceptance of this community has not come very far since the 50’s, with the Human Rights Campaign tracking at least 26 murders of transgender people in 2018, and already at least 16 killed in 2019 so far. 

According to the Human Rights Campaign, only 16% of transgender youth feel safe in school, and the suicide and self-harm risk for transgender and gender nonconforming is much higher than their cis-peers,” Atkinson said. 

Though this policy aims to create more peace within schools in the area, some APS parents are adamant about its faults.  

“No one of conscience would deny that transgender students should be protected and supported like any other student,” Arlington parent Maria Keffler said. “But Arlington Public Schools has been surreptitious, aggressive, and deceptive in its development of this policy implementation plan, which goes far beyond concerning itself with non-discrimination.”

It is not just parents who disagree with the adoption of the policy, though. Some students feel that it’s unfair to apply personal beliefs onto a whole school system. According to a survey taken by the Arlington Parent Coalition, 87% of the 90 students surveyed disagreed with the policy.  

“If you’re a boy and you become female, you have an advantage over other girls, which is unfair,” sophomore and W-L athlete Dorian Anthopolos said. “ Boys are built differently, it’s literally cheating.That’s the reason we have gender separated sports.” 

This policy could mean the normalization of co-ed teams. For students like Anthopolos, though, the adoption of this policy would be a shock to their everyday life and could cause some problems. 

APS is still going forward with this plan, but are considering the community feedback they receive. The adoption of this new policy could mean a whole different type of public school. Imagine gender neutral bathrooms being available in every hall, and sports teams that openly welcome transgender students. Imagine teachers asking their pupils on the first day of school how they would like to be addressed, avoiding assumptions. Imagine boys being dress coded for the same things as girls and vice versa. All of this is possible with the policy and a continuous push from activists over several more years, and to some is what public school has been lacking. To others, though, it would be an extreme. 

“Generally, any student that doesn’t conform to a traditional educational environment will always face challenges in being welcomed by a school system;” Atkinson said. “However, I feel that Arlington County is an accepting place and the school system reflects that.”