By Nadia Prupis / Common Dreams

Jeffrey Beall / Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has unveiled comprehensive protections for transgender students and employees, setting a model for other school districts amid a contentious national debate over the enforcement of gendered bathrooms and other rules.

The new policies, revealed Tuesday, will require all of the district’s 660 schools to accommodate transgender and gender nonconforming students based on their gender identity, rather than their biological sex, and those who have “a need or desire for increased privacy” should be granted “reasonable alternative arrangements” that can include access to single-stall restrooms or other areas.

“This is a great step toward a truly equal and inclusive public school system for transgender students in Chicago,” said Christopher Clark, counsel and LGBTQ Youth and Schools program strategist at Lambda Legal, one of the organizations that helped craft the new rules. “Chicago is the third largest school district in the country so today’s actions are significant. At a time when we are seeing attacks on the most vulnerable members of our community, Chicago is taking steps to protect and affirm transgender people.”

Under the new rules, students and employees also won’t be required to obtain court orders or gender reassignment to modify their school records to match their identities, and will be addressed by the “name and pronoun” that they prefer.

Transgender CPS employees will also be able to decide whether to share private information and district managers will be prohibited from sharing information that “may reveal an employee’s transgender status or gender nonconforming presentation to others.”

Tuesday’s announcement comes as Chicago continues to struggle with other issues in its school district, including lack of funding and the expansion of charter schools, among other problems. However, the rules were celebrated as a decisive win for equality at a time that other states throughout the country pass legislation banning students from using bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. The sweeping policy means that Chicago may be able to preempt discrimination at individual schools.

William Kutney, a CPS Spanish teacher, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “Adolescents exploring their gender identities are often left feeling isolated and marginalized. I hope that these guidelines will help their exploration feel more accepted. I’m also proud that [CPS] has moved in the opposite direction of some of the more regressive legislation that’s been passed.”

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