This guest post comes from Kevin McHenry, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Education.
In 2014, the Minnesota legislature passed the Safe and Supportive Schools resulting in the establishment of the Minnesota Department of Education’s School Safety Technical Assistance Center.
The technical assistance center focuses on the prevention of bullying and the improvement of school climate. The law also established a stakeholder advisory group, the School Safety and Technical Assistance Council, that provides guidance to department staff on collaborating and engaging with stakeholders throughout the state.
After the passage of the law, the state department of education received a number of inquiries from school district administrators and staff members, as well as students and families, seeking technical assistance on how to ensure safe, supportive and inclusive environments for transgender and gender-nonconforming students. The department also reviewed data from the most recent Student Survey that showed transgender students and gender-nonconforming students experience an increased risk of bullying and harassment inside school-based settings — resulting in decreased educational outcomes and elevated levels of mental health problems, such as increased depression, suicidality and post-traumatic stress disorder.
After collaborating with advocacy and education organizations, the department and the School Safety Technical Assistance Council adopted a voluntary Toolkit for Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students. The toolkit provides resources and best practices for district leaders working to ensure their schools are inclusive and welcoming for all students, so that all students can learn and be successful in a safe, supportive environment.
In the end, the belief that all students deserve to learn in a safe and supportive environment continues to be the foundation for the work we do every day at the Minnesota Department of Education’s technical assistance center.