San Juan College board members will vote on updating the Student Non-Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy in accordance with federal guidelines

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FARMINGTON — An update to San Juan College’s nondiscrimination policy that includes support for transgender and gender nonconforming students will be considered for approval during the college board's meeting Tuesday night.

The board members will vote on updating the college's Student Non-Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy in accordance with federal guidelines, according to Ed DesPlas, the vice president for administrative services.

“We’re here to equip people to live successfully in the 21st Century,” DesPlas said. “To be a well-trained workforce, to be good citizens and be open, accepting and inclusive of everyone that is part of this community.”

If approved, the college will provide transgender students equal access to all educational programs, activities and facilities, including restrooms, in accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, college officials said.

The Office of Civil Rights in the U.S Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague” letter via email on May 13, giving guidance to “school districts, colleges and universities to ensure all students — including transgender students — can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex.”

DesPlas said colleges receiving federal money must adhere to the recommendations under Title IX.

“It’s federal guidelines. We need to comply not only to the letter of the law, but being good individuals, to the spirit of the law,” DesPlas said. “That defines who we are.”

The guidance in the letter showed how Title IX works in terms of gender discrimination and offered recommendations and sample language to incorporate into a policy, said Kerri Langoni, the college's human resources senior director.

According to a draft of the policy update, gender identity is another category — along with race, age, sexual orientation, religion and national origin — of people to whom the college is committed to providing equal educational and employment opportunities.

The guidelines are incorporated in a new section called “Policy Regarding The Support Of Transgender And Gender Nonconforming Students.”

“We didn’t have any language specific to transgender individuals in our student policy,” DesPlas said. “We needed to add that.”

It delineates how the college will respond to a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex and how students can reach out to the college’s administration if they wish to assert a gender identity that is different than their previous records or representations.

The proposed policy update also states that the college will not require students to present identification to be treated as their identified gender and that they are not required to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity.

DesPlas said the college is aware that some people are uncomfortable with transgender people using a restroom of a gender different from their appearance.

“I think that we know there are going to be folks that have some discomfort and concerns about this,” Langoni said. “But what is important to remember is that this is federal guidelines. This is what we are doing to be compliant with Title IX because we are a Title IX school that receives federal funding.”

The board members will hear a presentation at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Room 1624 of the Student Learning Center and then possibly vote on the update during their meeting at 7 p.m. in the college board room in the Educational Services Center.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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