The Winnipeg School Division is moving forward on a transgender policy that its board chair says builds on work the division has already done to help all students feel welcome in schools.
The board of trustees discussed a draft copy of the school division's "Safe and Caring Policy, transgender and non-conforming students and staff" on Monday evening.
Following a lengthy discussion, trustees agreed to review the draft policy again and seek feedback from parents, staff and schools before a final draft is completed.
"Having this policy in place creates a safe space, right? It creates opportunities for these conversations to be happening between the children, the teachers and families and parent councils," said trustee Lisa Naylor, who tabled the motion calling for a policy to be created.
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"While we may run into some big challenges along the way and supporting some individual children, the majority of parents are supportive of their children. What this does is once a child can disclose to a trusting adult who helps them through this, the chances of them going to a parent and talking about this is so much bigger."
Earlier on Monday, board chair Mark Wasyliw called the draft policy a standardization of practices already in place in a number of schools.
"I think a lot of teachers don't know how to react when they are faced with this challenge in their classroom, and this is going to give them a blueprint, a roadmap list of what our expectations are for how these situations are to be dealt with, so that all students of the Winnipeg School Division are uniformly treated with the same sort of respect and protocol," Wasyliw said.
The division is committed to a judgment-free, safe, inclusive environment for all staff and students regardless of their gender identities and expression, he said.
The division also wants to allay fears other parents may have, Wasyliw said.
"We have to educate our society, and a lot of the concerns that parents may have may be rooted in assumptions that aren't true," Wasyliw said.
"That somehow that their children may be at risk or they're going to be harmed, and the evidence just doesn't bear that out, and part of this process is to educate our broader community about these issues, and hopefully this policy will do that and also give the teachers who are the front-line workers information that they need to provide that education to the community."
For example, the policy states students have the right to dress in a manner consistent with their gender identity, even if that dress may not be consistent with "societal expectations of masculinity/femininity." It also requires a gender neutral dress code at all schools.
When it comes to sports, schools should allow students to play on teams for the gender with which they identify.
Schools will be required to have a Universal Toilet Room for individuals that's accessible to all students and staff. However, transgender students will not be required to use it, so they do not feel segregated.
"Students shall have access to the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. Any student who has a need or desire for increased privacy, regardless of reason, should be provided access to a single-stall washroom," the draft policy states in part.
There is a similar guideline for change rooms for transgender students.
The policy also states it is unlawful to discriminate, harass or bully people based on their gender identity, and it is also unlawful to discriminate against those who support a transgender person.
WSD: Safe and Caring Policy for Transgender, Non-Conforming Students and Staff
WSD: Safe and Caring Policy for Transgender, Non-Conforming Students and Staff (PDF KB)
WSD: Safe and Caring Policy for Transgender, Non-Conforming Students and Staff (Text KB)