Article by Carol Lerner, The Philadelphia School
During the 2015-16 school year, the Philadelphia School (TPS) began conversations about the experience of TPS students with different gender identities. The Board Diversity Committee made a point to discuss the issue when it met over the summer of 2016, and subsequently assigned the director of diversity, equity and inclusion and a member of the committee to lead this work. These leaders conducted research to understand gender inclusivity.
Then in the fall of 2016, TPS partnered with the Attic Youth Center, a local organization whose mission is to create opportunities for LGBTQ youth to develop into healthy, independent, civic-minded adults within a safe and supportive community, and to promote the acceptance of LGBTQ youth in society. The Attic staff met with parents, faculty and middle school students.
At the same time, a Gender Inclusivity subcommittee formed, with leadership from the director of DEI, some members of the Board Diversity committee and a few faculty members. The subcommittee worked with the Attic on developing policies and best practices. The group collected samples of gender inclusivity policies from other schools, including area public schools. The School District of Philadelphia’s policy included many of the elements we at TPS wanted to incorporate into our own statement.
The Gender Inclusivity subcommittee identified six areas of focus:
- Communication strategy
- Practices and protocols as well as implementation plans
- Confidentiality regarding name on birth certificate versus name used at the school
- Pronoun practices
- Gender division in classes/clubs
During the winter and spring of 2017, the Gender Inclusivity committee worked with school administration to ensure the following items were in place by fall 2017:
- A gender diversity policy
- Clear guidelines for practices, especially around issues such as bathrooms, sports and overnight trips
- A plan for addressing bathrooms in the next round of building renovations
- A strategy for communicating plans and policies with the community
- Plans for professional development for teachers and staff
The Gender Inclusivity committee met several times to draft and finalize a gender diversity policy. The Director of DEI worked with the rest of the administration to implement the facility and operational considerations for providing gender-neutral bathrooms, communication plans and professional development opportunities. These implementations were as follows:
- Facility Considerations: Single-stall bathrooms throughout the school were re-designated as gender neutral bathrooms with new signage, which resulted in at least one gender neutral bathroom per floor of each building.
- Operational Considerations: Protocols around student identification on documents at enrollment and while enrolled, support systems for students, and other changes were discussed and implemented by administrators.
- Communication Plans: The director of communications worked with the director of DEI to communicate the gender diversity policy and operational changes to faculty, staff, parents and students as appropriate.
- Professional Development: The Attic Youth Center provided training to representatives from different grades to provide information on the school and to provide feedback on trainings for full faculty and staff. Two professional development sessions were held for faculty and staff over the course of the year, with additional sessions designed specifically for parent and students.
TPS recognizes that the gender identity policy is a dynamic and living document that will continue to evolve and change to support all members of our school community.
Carol Lerner is director of finance and operations at the Philadelphia School, a preschool-grade 8 school with 430 students in Center City, Philadelphia.
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