SJC board approves transgender policy update

Joshua Kellogg,

FARMINGTON — The San Juan College Board approved changes to the college’s nondiscrimination policy to include support for transgender students during its meeting Tuesday night.

Vice President for Administrative Services Edward DesPlas talks to San Juan College board members and President Toni Hopper Pendergrass on Tuesday  about changes to the school's nondiscrimination policy.

The updated Student Non-Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy states transgender students have equal access to all educational programs, activities, and facilities at the college.

During the board work session before the meeting, Ed DesPlas, the vice president for administrative services, gave board members a presentation about the proposed policy changes.

Gender identity has been added to categories like age, race, religion and sexual orientation that the college is committed to providing equal educational and employment opportunities, according to the updated policy.

DesPlas said the college is responding to guidance received by the U.S Department of Education and Justice that was issued on May 13 to ensure that all students, including transgender students, can experience a safe and discrimination-free environment.

President Toni Hopper Pendergrass, center, and board members R. Shane Chance, left, and Kenneth Hare confer during a meeting on Tuesday at San Juan College on the school's nondiscrimination policy.

The joint guidance from the national education and justice departments states that under Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s sex, including a student’s transgender status.

As part of the change, the college will respond to a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex and that students can update their records to reflect their gender identity, a move that does not require identification.

Board Secretary R. Shane Chance said before the meeting that the board members had to evaluate how the updated policy would affect the entire student population beyond the transgender and gender noncomforming students.

There was a brief discussion by board members during the work session.

Board member Joseph Pope asked DesPlas if the policy update includes any burden for the college to construct new restrooms. DesPlas replied there is no financial burden, as students are allowed to use the restroom that conforms with their gender identity. He also acknowledged that the restroom issues can be a concern for people.

“Having been at a college that did this about three years ago, most of the concerns subside, and none of the horrible things that you think might happen, happened,” DesPlas said. 

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