NARRAGANSETT – Last week, the Narragansett School Committee introduced a new policy that would specifically address transgender and gender non-conforming students and their parents or guardians within the school district. The new language seeks to ensure a safe and equal learning environment for all students, and lays out anti-harassment and anti-bullying measures. The policy also addresses the treatment of transgender, gender non-conforming and transitioning students and their parents/guardians by fellow students and faculty.

“Rhode Island law and District policy require that all programs, activities and employment practices are free from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity or gender expression,” the new policy reads. “Therefore, in keeping with these mandates the school committee commits to creating a safe learning environment for all students and ensuring that every student has equal access to all school programs and activities.”

The introduced policy served as a first reading of the item, and was not voted on for approval by the school committee. Instead, the body is expected to vote on the topic at its meeting next month, at which point, if approved, the policy would go into effect.

The move comes after several cities and towns across the state adopted similar policy to address the rapidly changing ideas behind gender identity of students nationwide. In the spring, South Kingstown joined the likes of Providence, Cumberland and others when it adopted its transgender and gender non-conforming policy after hosting a community conversation on the topic.

“The school committee believes that fostering this understanding is a joint responsibility that requires cooperation and good communication among students, parents/guardians, school administration, school staff and school community,” the proposed policy reads. “The Superintendent shall ensure that students with gender identity or expression differences and their parents/guardians, as appropriate, shall be given the opportunity to discuss these issues and participate in educational planning and programming.”

The policy then goes on to list the definitions of various relevant terms, among them being gender expression (“the manner in which a person represents or expresses gender to others”), gender identity (“a person’s deeply held sense or psychological knowledge of his or her own gender”), gender non-conforming (“ a term used to describe people whose gender expression differs stereotypic expectations”) and sexual orientation (“a person’s romantic or sexual attraction to people of the same or opposite sex multiple sexes”). Further definitions include bullying, sex assigned at birth, transgender and transition.

Under the proposed policy, school staff and faculty must address a student by his or her preferred name and the proper corresponding pronoun to that specific student’s gender expressed consistently at school. Students do not have to provide legal documentation indicating a name change to “be addressed by the name and pronoun that corresponds to their gender identity.”

When it comes to sports, the policy would generally allow students to participate in physical education and sports in accordance with the student’s gender identity that is consistently asserted at school. Although, the policy does state that participation in competitive, interscholastic sports will be handled on a case-by-case basis and adhere to the policies adopted by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League.

When it comes to bathrooms and their use by transgender or gender non-conforming students, the policy would pull no punches.

“All students shall have access to restrooms, locker rooms, changing facilities or overnight facilities that correspond to their gender identities,” the policy reads. “Any student who is uncomfortable using a shared, gender-segregated facility for any reason shall, upon the student’s request, have access to a safe and non-stigmatizing alternative…Under no circumstances may students be required to use sex-segregated facilities that are inconsistent with their gender identity.”

The policy also makes clear students would have the right to dress in accordance with their gender identity consistently asserted at school, while still respecting the district’s dress code. It also seeks to implement transgender and gender diversity education into school curricula in an age-appropriate manner.

Finally, the policy acts as a statement of support for transgender students to ensure equal learning opportunities for all students. The language therein dictates that staff must support a student whom has indicated the desire to transition, and encourage fellow students to do the same, at the same time encouraging a transitioning, transgender or gender non-conforming student to meet with teachers and administration to be provided with resources that address the challenges facing such students.  

In a statement, superintendent of Narragansett schools Dr. Peter J. Cummings said the introduction of such policy was a measure of insurance against harassment and bullying of transgender and gender non-conforming students, but also affirmed the policy was a statement of support for all students.

"The Transgender and Nonconforming Youth policy has a few essential elements. Certainly, making sure our students do not suffer from discrimination, bullying, or other harmful actions is crucial. The other important elements are support and education,” he said. “Through this policy, the school committee and the entire district is expressing our support of all of our students and our commitment to ensuring that our community is well educated regarding the diverse society in which we live.”


“We value each one of our students and believe all children have the right to feel safe and welcome in our schools,” Cummings continued. “This policy helps us in developing guidelines and processes to support a specific group of students and families and being sure each student can come to school feeling safe, welcome, and ready to learn."


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