Being out at school

I wanted to write about this as school is a huge part of our kids lives, and their attitude and approach to coming out as trans has such a big impact, or it has for us.

R came out to me while in P6, then came out to class teacher and headteacher just after starting P7, before coming out to their peers before the Xmas break in P7.

The first discussion with primary school was difficult, for lots of reasons, and they were hesitant because they had never dealt with anything even close to this situation. However, we discussed things, they looked at resources and supported R to come out to their class via a presentation and the response was amazing. I remember the day it was due to happen, I was so nervous, and made myself late for a work meeting to be home when R got back from school to hear how it had gone. R reported no issues and within 10 minutes of school finishing I was getting messages from parents saying how brave R was. If there was any negative reaction I never heard about it.

When it came time to think about R going to the local high school or applying to a school out of catchment I set up a meeting with the Deputy Head at the local high to get a feel for how they would deal with things, not just R being trans but their anxiety and panic attacks.

That meeting happened in November/December 2016 and the impression was they were fully accepting and they committed to having the training available for staff related to trans youth.

Since that first meeting we had various others, where it was just me and the DH, or where R was present. I wanted to help them anticipate and avoid any difficulties for R, to make sure that while R was always going to be anxious about the move to a bigger school, that being trans wouldn’t be part of that. We also talked about things like the mentoring system and who needed to know about R being trans.

R went back to school 4 weeks ago tomorrow. That first week was 2.5 days, and despite being listed as male on the register (and as a non-binary person R hates having to choose a gender), every teacher used female pronouns.

I got in touch with the DHT very quickly and submitted a formal complaint and asked for a meeting.

I then discovered that despite committing to full training to enable all staff to support R and any other trans youth, they had cut the session from a half day to 1 hour. Speaking to the training provider gave me this information and also that they had tailored the training they could delivered in the time available to give the information most relevant to R.

I met with the DHT who was dismayed at the issues I raised and promised to address them. After the meeting she told me she had spoken individually to all staff re pronouns (which was the biggest issue) rather than emailing and I was delighted at this proactive approach. Then I got the minutes of our meeting, and while there were appropriate action points, most didn’t have a time frame attached and I asked for this to be addressed. A goal is not measurable if there isn’t a time attached to it.

We set a follow up meeting for 2 weeks later. At that meeting I raised the fact that only one teacher was using correct pronouns and the majority were avoiding addressing R directly, and others were using their name. I highlighted the fact that avoiding addressing R was, while out of fear of getting it wrong, was just as bad as misgendering R. I also made the point that the limited amount of training meant staff were not fully equipped to support R and also was a large factor in the issues we were having.

I then received a summary of our meeting, not a full minute, but this summary stated that there was an improvement in this area. I had continued to highlight the lack of time frame attached to actions for improvement and the lack of adequate training meant staff were unprepared to adequately deal with and support R, or any trans youth in the school. The summary was not, in my view, an accurate representation of our discussion and I responded with comments to that effect.

Having no response for a week after that I took further advice from the organisation providing support to R and also providing training to staff. I also knew from discussion with the organisation providing the training what they had been able to cover in the limited time they had.

The delay in response (one did eventually come a week or so later), meant I felt I had to make a formal complaint to the local authority Education Department, and was advised to do so by experienced and educated professionals who do significant work within schools.

I have been told that further training will take place in January 2018, and while training is useful, a delay of almost 4 months from when R started high school to full staff training is far too long. I fully believe staff are willing and eager to provide appropriate support to R, and other trans youth, they are unable to do so without proper training.

I was informed that due to time constraints this was the earliest they could possibly complete the basic training of 3.5 hours for staff.

I queried at that second meeting if the training could happen at an earlier in service day, in October, and was told there are other priorities. I fully understand the demands placed on our teachers but at the same time I question if there is a real commitment to inclusivity for our trans youth if the relevant training for staff is not prioritised.

The initial 3 weeks or so of school I drove R to school, just to ensure they attended. That first day resulted in a panic attack and crying in the car at the idea of just entering the building. Things have gradually improved but not because of any action by school, rather R has dealt with the anxiety because they know they need to go to school.

As a mum this has been immensely difficult. The things I have dealt with include, having my child begging to be home schooled, asking why they are being misgendered, why this is all so difficult/complicated, and despite my best efforts R knows exactly how far we have had to take things (i.e. to the level of a formal complaint) and how it might affect how they are treated in school.

I ask myself on a daily basis why life needs to be so difficult for R, and for me. I ask myself why I need to fight for the things my child has a right to, like a safe and accepting environment to learn in.

R has excelled academically, and I feel we have done all we can to ensure there are no barriers to their continued academic achievements, but R still feels uncomfortable in an environment where they are not fully supported.

I did all possible before taking things to the next level, and even when I did take it to that next level, only so the school might be given more resources to enable them to do what they are willing and want to do. I fully believe that our issues are not due to school not being willing/wanting to support R or any other trans youth (and there are other trans youth in the school who are not out) but due to a lack of resources.

The result is that R is unhappy at school, while loving learning and achieving academically.

Why oh why do I continually face battles to achieve the basic rights my child has?

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