PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP/WPRI) — Rhode Island’s education commissioner says President Trump’s decision to rescind some federal protections for transgender people won’t change the state’s policies.
The Trump administration on Wednesday ended federal protections that allowed students use public school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities.
But Education Commissioner Ken Wagner issued a memo Thursday reaffirming those protections remain in the state’s schools.
Wagner says there is an expectation that schools and school districts in the state will provide a safe environment for all students, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
“Yesterday, the federal government rescinded guidance that was previously issued regarding transgender and gender nonconforming students. The rescinding of this federal guidance does not change our policy – there is no room for discrimination in our schools, and we will continue to protect all students, including transgender and gender nonconforming students, from any type of bias. Rhode Island has a strong history of encouraging safe and supportive learning environments, and we intend to continue that practice. It is imperative that all education professionals continue to be strong role models and advocates for the safety and well-being of the children entrusted to their care.”
Rhode Island passed a law in 2001 that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.
National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) President Larry Purtill mirrored Wagner’s sentiment in a statement of his own, saying his organization plans to “fight any efforts to roll back policies that keep all children safe from intimidation and harm.”
“We’ve been told since the election that the LGBTQ community had nothing to worry about with a President Trump. Yet at his first opportunity he chooses to attack LGBTQ youth. It’s offensive and disgraceful.
“We will do everything possible to protect, welcome and embrace our transgender students. Every, and I mean every, student deserves that and I will be asking RIDE to take this opportunity to recommit to the existing state law and guidance already in place.
“We will not turn our backs on these students. In fact, we’ve got their backs! Politics among adults is one thing, but not protecting every student is outrageous and will not be tolerated.”
If any students, teachers, administrators, or parents witness any act of discrimination or threatening behavior, Purtill said it can be reported to NEARI at (401) 463-9630 or GLBTQ Advocates and Defenders at (617) 426-1350.
The Rhode Island State Council of Churches objected as well, calling on the Trump administration to change its policy and school districts statewide to adopt the Department of Education’s policy.
In a statement, the organization’s executive minister, Rev. Dr. Don Anderson, said he believes civil rights should be a federal matter.
“Transgender persons are among the most vulnerable in our population. We must protect the safety of these students. As people of faith we believe all persons are created in God’s image and are worthy of dignity and respect. Federal policy and legislation should set the highest standard of human worth and value and demand that nothing less will be accepted.
History teaches us that in the absence of federal policy and legislation that states vary in their efficacy in providing equal rights to all. By the very nature of this approach there will be inequality among the states.”
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a co-sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimination Act, called the rollback “short-sighted” and said the courts will have a say in the matter.
“All students have a right to a public education that is free from discrimination. The Departments of Justice and Education are charged with protecting and defending that right. Tragically, the Trump Administration has decided to abdicate its duty to protect the rights of transgender students in our schools.”
Officials in Massachusetts also decried the move by the Trump administration.
U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy released a video message saying the president doesn’t speak for him or for many other officials in Washington and Massachusetts who will continue to push for the protections.
Fellow Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch said the country should be expanding protections against discrimination for students, not rescinding them. Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg called the rollback wrong.
Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey planned a Thursday press conference with Rosenberg, Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo and families of transgender students to speak out against the decision.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill into law last year guaranteeing transgender people can use restrooms that correspond with their gender identities in Massachusetts.Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.