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Legal Advisory

Legal Advisory regarding application of California’s antidiscrimination statutes to transgender youth in schools.

This advisory replaces LO: 1-04, dated April 30, 2004, regarding application of California’s antidiscrimination statutes to transgender youth in schools. The purpose of this advisory is to provide California school districts with updated guidance on the minimum requirements for compliance with California’s prohibition on gender identity discrimination.

State and federal law generally prohibits discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying of students based on their actual or perceived sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, race, color, ancestry, national origin, ethnic group identification, age, religion, marital or parental status, physical or mental disability or genetic information, or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics. (Education Code sections 220, 234.1; 42 U.S.C. sections 2000d-2000e-17, 2000h-2000h-6.)

In addition, Education Code Section 234.1, as amended by AB 9 (Ch. 728, Statutes of 2011), and Section 235, mandate that school districts(“districts”), including charter or alternative schools, adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying based on the above categories at school or in any school activity related to school attendance or under the authority of the district. Education Code Section 234.1 further requires districts to adopt a process requiring school personnel to immediately intervene, when it is safe to do so, whenever they witness acts of discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying based on the characteristics specified in Education Code sections 220 or 234.1 or Penal Code Section 422.55, including gender identity.

Education Code Section 221.5 specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex with regard to enrollment in classes or courses, career counseling and availability of physical education activities or sports to both sexes.

In 2013, AB 1266 amended Education Code Section 221.5 to clarify that students must be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with their gender identity, regardless of the gender listed in their student records. Even prior to the passage of AB 1266, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division investigated a civil rights complaint based on federal law against Arcadia Unified School District by a transgender student. The district agreed to provide transgender and gender-nonconforming students with equal access to district facilities, programs and activities consistent with their gender identity. (See Resolution Agreement External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF))

Therefore, California and federal law require schools to afford students equal opportunity and access to the school’s facilities, activities, and programs, in a manner that is consistent with each student’s gender identity, irrespective of whether the student’s gender identity matches the student’s assigned sex at birth. Education Code Section 210.7 (defining “gender” to include “a person’s gender-related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.”). Creating that type of school environment will help ensure that all students will be provided an environment that will nurture their growth, both academically and developmentally. 

The Department has prepared FAQs which address key issues regarding the requirements and implementation of AB 1266. These issues are: (1) privacy with respect to the student’s transgender status; (2) names and pronouns; (3) school records; (4) dress codes and uniforms; (5) restrooms and locker rooms; (6) physical education classes and school sports; and (7) protection from harassment.  The FAQs also contain a glossary of definitions and list of helpful resources, including a model board policy and administrative regulation developed by the California School Boards Association for adoption by districts. It is recommended that these materials are reviewed by superintendents, principals, administrators and the local educational agency officer appointed pursuant to Education Code Section 234.1(g) to ensure compliance with the educational equity and nondiscrimination requirements of Education Code Section 200 et seq. and 5 California Code of Regulations Section 4900 et seq.  

California law requires that schools provide all students with a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environment, free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying. Examples of harassment and abuse commonly experienced by transgender students include, but are not limited to, being teased for failing to conform to sex stereotypes, being deliberately referred to by the name and/or pronouns associated with the student’s assigned sex at birth, being deliberately excluded from peer activities, and having personal items stolen or damaged. School district efforts to prevent and address harassment must include strong local policies and procedures for handling complaints of harassment, consistent and effective implementation of those policies, and encouraging members of the school community to report incidents of harassment. Beyond investigating incidents, schools should implement appropriate corrective action to end the harassment and monitor the effectiveness of those actions.

If you have further questions regarding this legal advisory, please contact us.

Questions: School Health and Safety Office | | 916-319-0914 
Last Reviewed: Thursday, February 29, 2024