SLO County, California schools ahead of Obama administration on transgender students’ rights

An ADA-compliant bathroom sign designed by Peregrine Honig graces a restroom at the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, N.C.
An ADA-compliant bathroom sign designed by Peregrine Honig graces a restroom at the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, N.C. Associated Press

An Obama administration directive ordering public schools to provide restroom and locker room access to students based on their gender identity will have no impact in San Luis Obispo County and throughout California, where an anti-discrimination law has been in place since 2013.

On Friday, the Justice and Education departments sent a letter to school districts saying that students must be allowed to use the facilities that match the gender they identify with, even if that conflicts with the sex listed on their birth certificate. For districts that refuse to comply, the directive carries the potential threat of legal action or the withholding of federal funds.

But California public schools have been abiding by these rules for almost three years, since Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1266 prohibiting schools from discriminating on the basis of “gender, gender identity and gender expression” and allowing students to use school facilities and participate in sports and school activities on the basis of their gender identities, “irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”

“There’s nothing really earth-shattering about this for us,” said Rick Robinett, San Luis Coastal Unified School District assistant superintendent.

San Luis Coastal has transgender students at the elementary, middle and high school levels, Robinett said. Students are allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, he said, although some have requested more neutral facilities.

Amy Jacobs, a spokeswoman for Lucia Mar Unified School District, said district schools are all in compliance with state law regarding restroom use. Superintendents from Coast Unified School District and Paso Robles Unified School District provided similar statements.

“The legal guidance issued by President Obama does not impact our current policies or regulations, as it does not impose any new legal requirements,” Superintendent Chris Williams of Paso Robles said in a statement. “As a public school district, we will continue to provide a safe and nurturing environment and meet the needs of all of our students and their families.”