As part of Richmond Public Schools’ effort to make schools a more inclusive space for the LGBTQ community, starting this fall, it will have an option for students to display their chosen name on virtual platforms.
Richmond Public Schools has introduced the option for transgender and non-binary students to display their chosen name on online platforms for the upcoming virtual school year.
Students who need to change their name on virtual platforms, such as Google Classroom, should contact RPS Chief of Staff Michelle Hudacsko, according to Superintendent Jason Kamras’ Aug. 20 newsletter. While this option does not currently exist due to official policy, Kamras said RPS is working on making it official.
With the assistance of Side By Side, a local advocacy organization dedicated to LGBTQ youth, RPS has been making important changes to its policies over the past year in order to be more inclusive toward LGBTQ students and staff. According to Side By Side, the implementation of a chosen name practice is an important component of that effort.
“It’s such a little thing to be able to consistently use the name [a student goes by],” said Ted Lewis, executive director of Side by Side, “but it goes a long way to the mental health of transgender youth.”
Not only has the organization been working with the school district to update their policies and students’ code of conduct, Lewis said Side by Side has been providing training for counselors and teachers as well as resources such as support groups and mental counseling for RPS staff, students, and their families.
Kamras said RPS revised the Student Code of Responsible Ethics (SCORE) to remove gender-specific guidelines, has removed gender-based color graduation gowns, and is looking to revise bathroom policy to “promote equity.”
“Our motto at RPS is to teach with love, lead with love, and serve with love,” said Kamras. “It’s really hard to live that if we’re not making sure that all of our students and staff feel welcomed or love for who they are.”
According to a University of Texas study, there is a 65 percent decrease in suicide attempt among trans youths who are able to use their chosen names at school in addition to home, work, and with friends; there is also a 71 percent reduction in depression symptoms.
RPS’ example of trans inclusivity may help influence other local school districts to do the same. Lewis said that families in surrounding counties have sent RPS’ practice to their school districts as an example for LGBTQ-inclusive policies.
RPS is not the only institution in the area to offer such service or policies. The Henrico School Board had recently adopted new non-discriminatory policies that extend nondiscrimination to programs, services, and activities on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Virginia Commonwealth University has a program called “Call Me By My Name,” which allows students and employees to update the name, pronoun, and gender identity they associate with on various platforms. The University of Richmond has similar non-discriminatory policies towards their trans students and employees.
Currently, the Virginia Department of Education is developing model policies in regards to treatment of trans students in public schools, ranging from bullying and dress codes to students’ privacy and records maintenance. School boards are required to adopt these guidelines by the 2021-2022 school year.
While Kamras does not know what the model policies will entail, he said it will support and “give further credibility” to RPS’ inclusivity efforts.
Side by Side also has been involved in conversation with RPS in regards to law enforcement and school resource officers in schools. The organization sent out a letter to the school district calling for the removal of School Resource Officers (SROs) from all Richmond Public Schools, citing that LGBTQ students are more likely to be mistreated by law enforcement.
“This mistreatment and harassment by law enforcement combined with increased surveillance in school leads to more LGBTQ+ youth being incarcerated,” the letter stated.
Superintendent Kamras announced in a “Civic Voice Town Hall” meeting with students in July that he;s recommending to the school board the removal of SROs from schools and reallocating funding for mental health counseling. Kamras said the RPS is still in the review phase, and the school board will consider the hearing testimonies and data to make a decision on removing SROs this fall.
RPS plans to carry their chosen name practice to in-person learning once schools physically reopen, with a similar approach.
“We’ve created a mechanism for students to share their chosen names,” Kamras said, “so we can carry that forward now, once we do return in person.”
Top Photo via rvaschools.net