FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Education & Policy Coordinator, GLSEN Phoenix
Media Relations Manager, GLSEN National
GLSEN Arizona Chapters Call on Superintendent Douglas to Use Federal Guidance to Protect the Rights and Well-Being of All Arizona Students
PHOENIX (May 18, 2016) – On Friday, the Department of Education, along with the Department of Justice, issued a policy letter to U.S. school districts with recommendations intended to aid and clarify how to accommodate and protect the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming students. In response, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, Arizona’s top education administrator, claimed that the guidance was an example of “overreach” that would negatively impact Arizona schools. GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) Arizona chapters, GLSEN Phoenix and GLSEN Tucson, respectfully remind Superintendent Douglas of her obligation to create and foster a learning environment where every student in Arizona can succeed.
“At hand is an opportunity for Superintendent Douglas to embrace evidence-based guidance and provide clarity for the teachers she has tasked to educate Arizona’s young people,” said Danny Hernandez, GLSEN Phoenix’s Education and Policy Coordinator. “Decades of research have demonstrated that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students who experience bullying and harassment at their respective schools have lower academic achievement, lower self-esteem, higher absenteeism, and higher levels of depression. However, school climate can improve by enacting safe schools policies. A chance to take a stand against discrimination and provide a positive school experience seems like a no-brainer. Secretary Douglas: do not further stigmatize transgender and gender nonconforming Arizona students.”
Title IX is the law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. As the letter states, “A school’s Title IX obligation to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex requires schools to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns. As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.”
The quality of education in Arizona consistently ranks among the lowest in the nation. (A 2015 report lists Arizona as 47th in the U.S. for quality education, 38th for K-12 achievement, and 45th for ‘chance of success.’) Additionally, findings from GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Surveydemonstrate that Arizona schools continue to be unsafe for most LGBT secondary school students. Further, Arizona is one of eight states with discriminatory education laws aimed at stigmatizing LGBT people and fostering an unsafe school environment. An attempt to repeal this law failed earlier this year.
Brenda Kazen, GLSEN Tucson Chair, reflected on the struggle to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for her students: “As a school counselor, I am acutely aware of the ongoing struggle to provide a quality education in our state. Furthermore, I understand from both research and first-hand accounts that transgender students belong to a historically vulnerable community and experience higher instances of discrimination, harassment and violence at school. As educators, it is our responsibility to use this guidance to implement policies and programs which allow all of our students to learn in an environment that is safe and supportive.” Kazen continued, “Arizona teachers and school leaders are embattled with the Legislature over education funding; a fight with Arizona’s Superintendent of Schools over common-sense policy recommendations is one that can and should be avoided.”
The availability of similar inclusive policies has been shown to positively affect school climate for LGBT students. In Arizona however, LGBT-inclusive statewide non-discrimination and anti-bullying statutes designed to protect students based on sexual orientation and gender identity are non-existent. In the state, only 8 percent of students attend a school with a comprehensive policy. School and district-based support must include policies enumerated to include specific protections to allow for the implementation of measures that can effectively protect all students.
Beyond the specifications and guidance contained in the policy letter, GLSEN offers a variety of in-person and online resources such as professional development and continuing education opportunities, and model laws and policies, including a model district policy on transgender and gender nonconforming students. Swift action in accordance with the policy guidance can move Arizona schools toward an education system in which all students have the opportunity to learn and succeed in a welcoming environment. This cannot happen without a foundation of equal treatment and respect, backed by inclusive school policies. GLSEN Phoenix and GLSEN Tucson offer their support and welcome the opportunity to assist state education leaders with future implementation.
About GLSEN Phoenix and GLSEN Tucson: GLSEN Phoenix and GLSEN Tucson are two of forty local chapters of the nation’s leading education organization working to ensure that all students in every K-12 school are valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Following a research-based approach, each chapter works throughout the state of Arizona supporting student-led efforts to positively impact their own schools and local communities, assisting educators in becoming allies to LGBTQ youth by developing the knowledge and skills needed to create and sustain safe, inclusive, respectful and healthful environment for all students, and partnering with decision makers to ensure that comprehensive and inclusive safe schools policies are considered, passed and implemented.
About GLSEN: GLSEN is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe and affirming schools for all students. GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.