Are there any laws protecting transgender students in Rhode Island?
Yes. In 2011, Rhode Island passed the “Safe Schools Act” that applies to all school districts, charter schools, career and technical schools and approved private day or residential schools in Rhode Island.
It defines “bullying” as written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof directed at a student by one or more students that:
- causes or places the student in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm or damage to the student’s property,
- creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile or abusive educational environment,
- infringes on the rights of the student to participate in school activities, or
- disrupts the educational process or orderly operation of the school (R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-21-33(a)(1)).
The law identifies characteristics that may be reasonably perceived to have motivated the act of “bullying” as including race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-21-33(a)(1)(v)).
The law goes on to define “cyber-bullying” as bullying through the use of technology or electronic communication (R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-21-33(a)(2)).
In 2016, RIDE released a detailed model policy that aimed to address the specific needs of transgender students and ensure schools’ compliance with civil rights laws. However, schools were not mandated to adopt the model policy, and many RI schools had no policy in place to protect the rights of this vulnerable group.
In 2018, RIDE filed regulations requiring all public school districts to adopt a comprehensive policy outlining the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students. The regulations took effect on April 17, 2018, and all schools were to have a compliant policy in place by July 1, 2018.
Specifically, the new regulations mandate districts have policies in place that are consistent with state and national best practices, and “address, at a minimum, such issues as confidentiality and privacy, discipline and exclusion, staff training, access to school facilities and participation in school programs, dress codes and official school records and use of preferred names and pronouns.”