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MSSD14 needs name change policy

Some transgender students unable to change their names in school records.
Ethan Anderson
When a name that doesn’t match a student’s gender is displayed on their records, it exposes them to discriminatory harassment and abuse.

A name helps to determine the way people move through the world, and for transgender people, choosing a name is often one of the first major steps of transition. It is vital that their names are respected. Transgender students at Manitou Springs High School are often unable to change school records to match their gender, violating their privacy and putting them at risk for mental health issues, discrimination, harassment and even assault. 

August Tribble, a senior at MSHS, asked a counselor to change the name displayed in school records so that it matched his gender. “I asked for whatever resources I needed to get my name changed. They told me they had zero power over it and that there was nothing they could do,” Tribble said.

Tribble’s encounter with his counselor brought to light a problem. According to school officials, diplomas must be written with a student’s legal name and are pulled from PowerSchool; so unless a different system is devised, the name in PowerSchool cannot be changed without legal documentation. Counselors, a student’s helper for many similar issues, were unable to help. 

“There’s no standard for how to treat us and that creates problems,” August Tribble said. (Ares Mars)

After multiple visits, the Counseling Center was able to change Tribble’s name on Canvas and his email. His name is still visible in some places, including the roster. “It’s embarrassing to go tell every teacher at the beginning of the year that the name on the roster is wrong,” Tribble said. “If you have a substitute who doesn’t know you, you’re being outed to your entire class, which in my experience, has been very dangerous.”

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Noelle Strait is the School Advocate at Inside Out Youth Services, an organization that supports LGBTQ+ youth in the Pikes Peak region and she agrees.

“It is incredibly dangerous for people to discover a student’s confidential information that they should not have access to,” Strait said. “For some students who are not ‘out’ at home, their parents or guardians discovering that they use an alternative name or pronouns at school could jeopardize their home safety. For students who are living as their authentic selves, other students or faculty discovering their legal name or sex assigned at birth would put them at a much higher risk for bullying, discrimination, harassment and even assault.”

Between 31% and 51% of transgender adolescence have attempted suicide, compared to a 14% average. A 2018 study found that the risk of suicidal behavior among LGBTQ+ youth decreased by 56% for each context in which their name and pronouns were respected. Using a transgender person’s chosen name and pronouns is suicide prevention

“This is especially important for youth in this community who may not have safe, supportive adults at home,” Strait said.

As a whole, transgender and gender-expansive youth face more discrimination at school than other students. 

“They are frequently subjected to discrimination in regard to dress code, bathroom use, locker room access, extra-curricular activity participation, name and pronoun use and more,” Strait said. “This impacts their ability to fully participate in and benefit from their own educational experiences.”

GLSEN’s 2021 National School Climate Survey found that between 28% and 45% of LGBTQ+ students missed at least one day of school during the past month due to safety concerns. It also found that transgender youth are significantly more likely to avoid school bathrooms, locker rooms, gym classes and other spaces than cisgender youth. Discrimination is a main cause of other issues transgender youth face, including homelessness, substance use and more.

The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) states that parents and students above the age of 18 have the right to request that a school correct records which they believe to violate a student’s privacy. The 1999 court case Powell v. Schriver decided that disclosing a person’s transgender status violates their constitutional right to privacy and protection against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. When a transgender student’s legal name or sex marking is displayed where other people can see it, that violates their federal right to privacy.

Schools should adopt clear and inclusive policies to support transgender, gender-expansive and all LGBTQ+ youth. Strait recommends Boulder Valley School District’s policy as a model.

“This would include policies allowing students to utilize different names and pronouns with ease,” Strait said. “Please be aware that a legal name or gender marker change is not required for a student to make a change to their educational records.”

The specific ways a student’s legal and chosen names should be handled are available in the Colorado Department of Education’s guide to Record Integration Tracking System and student documentation.

Schools should adopt clear and inclusive policies to support transgender, gender-expansive and all LGBTQ+ youth. Strait recommends Boulder Valley School District’s policy as a model.

“Though it is very important to use legal names so that data is accurate for funding, assessment and other authorized data purposes, the priority should always be the safety and well-being of students. That being said, transgender students are an exception,” the guide says. “The district is required to maintain an ‘official record’ that includes a student’s legal name and legal gender. However, to the extent that schools are not legally required to use a student’s legal name and gender on other school records or documents, schools are encouraged to use the name and gender preferred by the student.”

Elizabeth Domangue, the Superintendent for Manitou Springs School District, says a task force will be created in January to address these concerns. The task force’s first meeting will be Jan. 19 at 3:30 p.m.. It will be led by Eric McMartin, the assistant superintendent.

“The task force will make recommendations for a clear process for students who want to change their name,” Domangue said. “This will include where the documents will be posted online and who will provide support along the way.”

This story was originally published on The Prospector on January 17, 2023.