HIGH POINT — State law and Guilford County Schools’ policy say schools have a responsibility to protect students from bullying — and bullying based on a student’s gender identity is no exception.
In fact, it’s spelled out among other examples in both the law and the policy, said Monica Walker, the district’s diversity officer, addressing a handful of parents and their children at a talk held at High Point Central High School on Monday night.
“Ensuring Safe and Gender Inclusive Environments for all Students” was billed as an opportunity for attendees to “learn and share with us as we define our diversity, equity and inclusion goals in our district.”
The talk comes as school systems are becoming more likely to see students who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth or who don’t conform with gender norms others might expect of them.
Some staff members, Walker said, may very well have their own opinions about some of these issues, but when they come to work they need to be prepared to defend the physical and psychological safety of their students.
“What we are essentially saying is: In this school system, we don’t tolerate someone being harassed for who they are,” Walker said.
Walker talked about a conference the school system is hoping to hold in February that would train a couple of staff members at each school to be better informed and aware about gender identity and its expression.
And while she stressed school and staff responsibility, Walker also acknowledged challenges.
There can be tricky situations, she said, where staff needs to let a parent know about a dangerous bullying situation at school, but the student may be scared of what the parent might do if they found out about an LGBT identity.
At one point in the presentation, she suggested students who feel the need to talk to someone at school about their gender identity might be better off bringing it up with a counselor than a teacher.
Counselors, she explained, may be more likely to have sensitivity to the issue versus a teacher who might be nervous about discussing the topic.
During a question-and-answer period, one woman asked what could be done to train teachers. In her experience, the woman said teachers can make offhand remarks that are devastating for a student and their hopes of trusting that person.
“Let me be honest and say it is the most challenging work yet,” Walker said. “We don’t get nearly the time that we need to give direct training to teachers.”
With teacher training days at a premium, Walker said, academic-related training is often winning out.
There is training on unconscious bias — issues related to making assumptions about a person without thinking about it — and there’s potential for that to help teachers better question assumptions related to gender and gender identity.