Department of Defense school officials are reviewing their practices for supporting transgender students, a spokesman said.

"We are in the process of reviewing existing policy and regulations to ensure fairness, respect and safety for all students," said Frank O'Gara, spokesman for the Department of Defense Education Activity.

The review had started before Education and Justice department officials issued guidance today to schools officials around the country affirming that discrimination against a student based on transgender status is a violation of federal law. The new guidance addresses restrooms, locker rooms and a variety of other issues.

For example, a school can't require a transgender student to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity, or to use individual-user facilities if other students aren't required to, according to the Education and Justice department guidance. But a school could make these individual-user facilities open to all students who voluntarily seek more privacy.

The DoDEA review will include an examination of that new transgender guidance issued, O’Gara said. Officials also have been looking at whether the school system’s practices and guidance are consistent with current DoD policy, O’Gara said. While it is a part of the Department of Defense, and some state regulations issued affecting states may not affect DoDEA, "anything that’s a federal law, our officials look at to see how it applies to us," O’Gara said.

Currently when a parent notifies school officials that a child will assert a gender identity that is different, DoDEA schools support students on a case-by-case basis, he said.

DoDEA "is committed to ensuring that no student is subject to discrimination of any kind in our educational programs and that students are provided a safe and secure learning environment, free from harassment," O'Gara said.

He noted that DoDEA will inform all members of the school community, including school personnel, students, and families, "of any future changes to our policies and its implications for school policy and practice."

More than 74,000 children in military and DoD civilian families attend DoDEA schools. The school system operates 172 schools in grades kindergarten through 12, in 11 foreign countries, seven states, Guam and Puerto Rico.

The Education and Justice departments' guidance notes that under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools can provide sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing and athletic teams and single-sex classes under certain circumstances. With this new guidance, officials clarify that transgender students must be allowed to use the facilities and participate in activities consistent with their gender identity.

When it comes to athletics, schools can have sex-segregated teams when the selection for the team is based on competitive skill or the activity is a contact sport, under Title IX. But a school can't have requirements that rely on broad generalizations or stereotypes about the differences between transgender students and other students of the same gender identify, or others' discomfort with transgender students. Schools can have age-appropriate, tailored requirements based on sound medical knowledge about competitive fairness or physical safety.

Along with the guidance issued to schools, officials provided examples of practices that some schools have already adopted to support transgender students.

For example, in Washington state, any student who wants increased privacy should be given access to an alternative restroom or changing area. This allows students who feel uncomfortable sharing the facility with a transgender student to use a separate restroom without stigmatizing any individual student.

"No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus," said Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., in a statement. "This guidance further clarifies what we've said repeatedly — that gender identity is protected under Title IX.

"Educators want to do the right thing for students, and many have reached out to us for guidance on how to follow the law. We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence."

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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