Legal Question Of The Week - 3/27/13

By Attorney Thomas B. Mooney, Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut

The "Legal Question of the Week" is a regular feature of the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. We invite readers to submit short, law-related questions of practical concern to school administrators. Each week, we will select a question and publish an answer. While these answers cannot be considered formal legal advice, they may be of help to you and your colleagues. We may edit your questions, and we will not identify the authors. Please submit your questions to:

Dear Legal Mailbag:

A middle school student came into my office today and told me that, although he is biologically male, he really feels like a girl inside and wants to be treated as such. His birth name is Ted, but now he wants all his teachers to call him Terri. In addition, he wants to be allowed to wear dresses as he sees fit. Obviously I was surprised by this request, and I called the parents to discuss it with them. I was surprised when they told me that they were fully supportive of their son’s decision, and they directed me to stop referring to their son with the male pronoun. In fact, they went on to tell me that they are insisting that I change the school records to reflect that Terri is female. Help!

Wondering What to Do

Dear Wondering:

In 2011, the General Assembly passed Public Act 11-55, “An Act Concerning Discrimination,” which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. The law amends Section 10-15c by adding “gender identity or expression” as a prohibited basis for discrimination in the public schools, and it defines “gender identity or expression” as follows:

  (21) "Gender identity or expression" means a person's gender-related
  identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related
  identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally
  associated with the person's physiology or assigned sex at birth,
  which gender-related identity can be shown by providing evidence
  including,   but not limited to, medical history, care or
  treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform
  assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the
  gender-related identity is sincerely held, part of a person's core
  identity or not being asserted for an improper purpose.

Given this new protection, it is clear that students have the right to express a gender other than their birth gender without discrimination. Accordingly, when a student demonstrates that a different gender identity is sincerely held and not being asserted for an improper purpose, school officials must recognize that expression of gender.

The request here to be addressed by the chosen new name is simple and should be granted. It is also clear that school officials should change their records to reflect the chosen name going forward, e.g., report cards, class lists and other notices. Moreover, Terri clearly has the right to dress as a girl. However, whether and how we amend previous records that were correct when made is not clear. Moreover, many other questions remain, most acutely as regards bathrooms and locker rooms, in which both the transgender student and the other students have privacy interests. The Connecticut Safe School Coalition has published “Guidelines for Connecticut Schools to Comply with Gender Identity and Expression Non-Discrimination Laws,” which is available at This helpful guidance is a good start. However, it is simply guidance, and we will hope that constructive conversation between school officials and students and parents, rather than litigation, will resolve issues regarding compliance with this new law.