Education Law Association Conference Nov.2-6 Orlando, Florida 2016
In attending my first conference representing the WTA, I was both nervous and anxious being in a room with mostly lawyers, administrators, and superintendents from across America and knowing very little about Education Law. Within 10 minutes of my first session, my nervousness vanished and I was not only interested in the conversations, I was actively involved.
The Education Law Association Conference on Equality and Freedom delved heavily into American litigation, so how does it relate to WTA? Because the conversations they are having are similar to our own regarding Transgender issues, bullying, and online issues for both students and teachers.
My first session was entitled “Transgender Issues” which is a very broad topic. I spent some time googling American acronyms and getting up to speed about the “Dear Colleague” letter(regarding policies and acceptable procedures in dealing with Transgender students) and what Title VII and Title IX are and how they are interpreted. There are parallels to our province, in how some states are reacting to the Dear Colleague letter regarding LGBTTQQ rights. There were many scenarios given and discussions about how to support our transgender students. The Genderbread Person is a great tool to use in the classroom when discussing gender identity, expression, biological sex, and attraction. Also similar was where students feel the most vulnerable: Restrooms, locker rooms, and lunch rooms. All areas with minimal or no supervision.
Thursday’s breakfast roundtable discussed restrooms and locker rooms in schools. How can we make them safe for ALL our students, because it’s not only transgender students who are feeling vulnerable. Restrooms are hot spots for bullying for all students and also graffiti and damages. So do we move to gender neutral bathrooms for all? Floor to ceiling stalls and common area sinks? What is the best solution to keep our students safe? Another point was raised that new schools being built should factor in different bathrooms, moving away from traditional boy/girl bathrooms. There were other sessions I attended throughout the day on transgender discrimination, bullying across schools, sexual harassment and the workplace, and how to investigate student sexting.
Friday’s session about when teachers go viral definitely had parallels I could draw from. The message remains the same we have heard from WTA: don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want your employer to see or hear about. Once you have put it online, it is out there for all to see and judge, regardless of your privacy settings!
There more session of interest, including attendance and programming for pregnant and parenting students, discipline cases and the Accepting Schools Act in Ontario, and research regarding America’s school to prison pipeline.
I was very proud of both Canadian and Manitoban policies already in place, including WSD’s Safe and Caring Policy put in place last school year. We are on the right track in protecting and supporting our transgender students and colleagues, but the conversations need to continue.