Given federal guidelines and the absence of state policy on transgender students, it is incumbent on each school district to adopt a comprehensive policy to support transgender and gender expansive students. With a comprehensive policy, schools can better provide access to a full public education for all students regardless of gender identity or expression.
As of January 2017, we have accounted for 16 comprehensive board-approved policies or guidelines that specifically detail inclusion for transgender students. As well as of January 2017, we have confirmed that 29 school districts have included gender identity as a protected class in their student non-discrimination policy. Of those districts, seven updated their student non-discrimination policy to include gender identity/expression between May and December 2016.
State Education Policy
Pennsylvania law or regulation does not offer specific non-discrimination protections for students based on their actual or perceived gender identity or expression. No provisions have been adopted by the General Assembly or promulgated by the State Board of Education to affirm transgender students access to a full and safe public education. The State Board of Education offers limited non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation (22 Pa. Code §§ 4.4, 12.4, 235), but as well, there are no statutory protections on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act of 1955 is the governing state law on discrimination, enforced by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission which adjudicates cases (complementing the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). The act does not include gender identity or expression as a protected class, although 40+ years of formal advocacy continue in pressing for the act to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Since 1982, 43 municipalities have adopted LGBT-inclusive local non-discrimination ordinances which cover employment, housing, and public accommodations. Many of these ordinances additionally include specific protections for public schools. To find out more about the 36 municipalities that have adopted ordinances, please visit the Suburban and Rural Alliance of Pennsylvania’s website which includes information on each local law.
Stated Position of the Pennsylvania Department of Education
The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has yet to issue a formal position on the recently issued federal guidance on supporting transgender students.
PDE continues to refer school districts directly to the issued federal guidance for information on supporting transgender students in Pennsylvania.