The St. Paul School District has spelled out how it is putting into practice a new policy promoting a safe and respectful environment for transgender students.

Forms are available to students who wish to change the names and pronouns by which they are known. In addition, the district has adopted a four-page list of procedures that includes a provision directing staff members to address students by their requested names and-or pronouns, even if their parents don't agree.

"Inadvertant, honest mistakes in the use of a student's preferred name or pronoun may occur," the document states. "The intentional and persistent refusal to respect a student's gender identity or gender expression may be considered discriminatory and is subject to disciplinary measures."

St. Paul approved its gender inclusion policy last spring. The move came at a time of heightened attention to issues surrounding transgender and gender-nonconforming students and their desire to feel comfortable in school. As of last Tuesday, the district's placement center had received three name/gender change request forms, said Mary Hoelscher, a specialist with the district's Out for Equity program.

Hoelscher told board members that most families they work with have elementary-school-aged children.

The request form, if approved, changes how a student is identified in the district's student records system. The document does not constitute a legal name change, and must be signed by a parent or guardian if the student is under 18. Students who are 18 and older don't need a parent's signature.

Earlier this year, the new policy was greeted with near unanimous support from citizens and advocates appearing before the school board. But the district, mindful of one critic's mocking claim that his child wished to be referred to as "Mr. Ed," is making clear that the name change requests must be made in "good faith" and that principals have the authority to reject names they deem to be offensive.

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