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Massachusetts Charter Schools

Required Amendments to Policies–Inclusion of Gender Identity as a Protected Classification

To:Charter School Leaders and Board Chairs
From:Cliff Chuang, Associate Commissioner
Date:July 17, 2013

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Because the Commonwealth of Massachusetts now prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity, charter schools must update and amend their anti-discrimination statements in various documents and policies.

An Act Relative to Gender Identity, Chapter 199 of the Acts of 2011, became effective on July 1, 2012 and amended several Massachusetts statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of specified categories to include discrimination on the basis of gender identity. In June 2012, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) adopted amendments to the state regulations on Access to Equal Educational Opportunity, 603 CMR 26.00, and Charter Schools, 603 CMR 1.00, to incorporate these new requirements to protect students from discrimination in public schools based upon gender identity.

Guidance

In response to these changes in law, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) released guidelines on February 15, 2013: Guidance for Massachusetts Public Schools Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment – Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity. These guidelines are meant to help schools and districts comply with the amended statutes and regulations. Further, the guidelines are intended to support school and district administrators and staff to develop a culture and strategies that welcomes and accommodates transgender students.

The guidelines offer some specific recommendations including, but not limited to,

  • use of the students' preferred names and pronouns;
  • ensure students can access restrooms, locker rooms, and other changing facilities that match their gender identity and provide a safe alternative such as "unisex" or gender-neutral restroom;
  • change gender-based dress codes to be gender-neutral; and
  • incorporate gender identity into anti-bullying curriculum, student leadership training, and staff professional development.

Next Steps

Although these changes will affect many of your school's documents, amending at least one of those documents that must change—the charter school's enrollment/admissions policy—requires a vote from your board of trustees. Please review existing policies and update all written materials issued by your school. This includes, but is not limited to, websites, student and family handbooks, staff handbooks, and application materials to ensure that they reflect the changes in the law with respect to gender identity. At a minimum, the school must include the category of "gender identity" within the identification of legally protected characteristics as found in your school's nondiscrimination statement and enrollment policy. For example:

"XYZ charter school does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, creed, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, ancestry, athletic performance, special need, proficiency

in the English language or a foreign language or prior academic achievement."

Generally, changes to enrollment policies are considered minor charter amendment requests and require Department approval. Because this change in enrollment policy is required by law of all public schools, however, this change to your enrollment policy need not be submitted to the Department for approval. Rather, we ask that you make the appropriate revisions and clearly document your board of trustees' approval of the change to your enrollment policy no later than October 31, 2013. The Department will confirm compliance with this requirement upon the next formal review of your school's enrollment process or upon request. Please note that if you make any other substantive changes to your enrollment policy or process, your school should follow the regular minor charter amendment process outlined at http://www.doe.mass.edu/charter/governance/.

If you have any questions regarding the updating of school policies and materials, please contact Eleanor Rounds at 781-338-3212 or erounds@doe.mass.edu. If you have questions about the ramifications of the law, we encourage you to contact your legal counsel. For further information related to providing a safe and supportive school environment for students and implementing the gender identity provision of the law, please contact the Center for Student Support at ssca@doe.mass.edu.



Last Updated: July 17, 2013
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