Transgender Students Deserve Best Practice from Each and Every One of Us in Education

Jan 11, 2019

Leading Educators Urge Betsy DeVos to Retain Policies that Support Transgender Students 

January 11, 2019

For Immediate Release
Contact: Miriam Rollin,, (202) 868-4783, Twitter: @Ed_CivilRights

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Highlighting the need for teachers to serve all children, a distinguished group of educators has written U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to express support for existing Department of Education policies regarding transgender students. The letter is in response to the Trump Administration’s plans to define gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, an action that would eliminate policies and practices that recognize, protect and support transgender students.

The signatories to the letter are members of the Leading Educator Ambassadors for Equity (LEAE) of the Education Civil Rights Alliance (ECRA). According to the LEAE letter, transgender students and other LGBTQ students experience high rates of school-based obstacles to success, including bullying, harassment, assault, and violence, as well as school policies and educator practices hostile to LGBTQ students, especially transgender students.  The letter cites the National School Climate Survey by GLSEN which indicates that nearly half of transgender and gender nonconforming students were prevented from using their chosen name or pronoun or were required to use a bathroom or locker room of their sex at birth.  The harmful consequences for these youth can be very serious and can include educational failure and suicide.

“As teachers, these sobering numbers are more than just statistics to us. We see the impact of this every day in our classrooms and hallways, and in the health and happiness of the students we serve.” The LEAE members are calling on Secretary DeVos to act as guardian of every child in our nation’s public schools and to support efforts to meet the specific needs of all students including those who are transgender, and to reject this misguided “sex at birth” approach.

Brett Bigham, an LEAE member and 2014 Oregon Teacher of the Year has pledged to resist the administration’s approach to transgender students. “The job of the government in a
democracy is to build its people up, not tear them down and try to erase them,” Bigham said. “These actions by the Trump Administration will harm our transgender students and as teachers we are committed to do no harm to those in our care. Because of this, I will oppose any policy that does not have ALL of my students best interest at heart.”

A copy of the letter can be found here.


About the Education Civil Rights Alliance
The Education Civil Rights Alliance is a diverse and experienced group of organizers, educator organizations, community groups, professional associations, and civil rights organizations that are committed to promoting education equity and protecting the civil rights of marginalized students.

The National Center for Youth Law is the convener of the Education Civil Rights Alliance.

About the Leading Educator Ambassadors for Equity

Brett Bigham (OR Teacher of the Year)
Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year the only Oregon special education teacher to be named Teacher of the Year and to win the NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence.  In 2015 he was given the NEA LGBT Teacher Role Model Award. He is the creator of Ability Guidebooks, a series of support books for people with autism that give step-by-step directions how to visit cultural landmarks and social events. He is president of ORSTOY, the Oregon chapter of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and serves on the boards of Oregon Safe Schools and Clubfunder.Org.

Sydney Chaffee (2017 National Teacher of the Year, and MA Teacher of the Year)
Sydney Chaffee is a National Board-Certified Teacher who believes that education is an essential tool to work towards social justice. Since 2007, Sydney has been the ninth grade Humanities teacher at Codman Academy Charter Public School. Sydney was 2017 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and 2017 National Teacher of the Year, enabling her to speak to a wider audience about the possibilities of integrating arts education into traditional academic disciplines, the importance of teacher learning, and the role of education in social justice movements.

Jemelleh Coes (GA Teacher of the Year)
Dr. Jemelleh Coes is Georgia’s 2014 Teacher of the Year and a 2015 Lowell Milken Fellow. She spent six years teaching English/language arts and math in both the general and special education setting.  She earned her Ph.D. in Educational Theory and Practice with certificates in Disability Studies and Education Law and Policy while serving as field instructor for teacher candidates at the University of Georgia.  She also serves as a teacher mentor for classroom teachers throughout Georgia. She is the daughter of immigrant parents from Guyana and a first-generation college graduate.

Melissa Collins (Global Teacher Prize Finalist – Top 50 in 2018)
Dr. Melissa Collins has been an elementary school teacher at John P. Freeman Optional School in Memphis for 19 years.  She was a Global Teacher Prize Finalist (Top 50) (2018), and is the recipient of: Queen Smith Award, Stephen Sondheim Award, Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the National Science Teaching Association Sylvia Shurgrue Award, and West Tennessee Teacher of the Year. She is a National Board-Certified Teacher, and is a 2018-19 Fellow of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Megan Olivia Hall (MN Teacher of the Year)
In her 17 years of teaching science, Megan has worked with students of many ages and levels, from kindergarten to Advanced Placement.  She is a leader of her school’s social and emotional learning (SEL) program and facilitated the 2017 National SEL Fellowship for NEA and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. A National Board-Certified Teacher and an NEA Foundation Global Fellow, Megan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Learning, Instruction, and Innovation at Walden University.

Rick Joseph (MI Teacher of The Year)
Rick Joseph is a fifth and sixth grade National Board-Certified teacher at Covington School in Birmingham, Michigan.  He went into teaching to address racial disparities, was a bilingual teacher in Chicago for several years, and also works on safe/inclusive learning environments for LGBTQ students and immigrant students.

Athanasia (Sia) Kyriakakos (MD Teacher of the Year)
Athanasia Kyriakakos, a renowned artist, teaches visual art at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School.  She has been a Baltimore Teachers Union mentor and Union Learning Representative, and in 2015, a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Teacher Leaders program. Ms. Kyriakakos was 2016/17 Baltimore City Teacher of the Year, the 2017 Maryland State Teacher of the Year and one of four Finalists for the National TOY title. In 2018, she was awarded The Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship from the State department and the Fulbright for Distinguished Teachers Award.

Estella Owoimaha-Church (Global Teacher Prize Finalist – Top 50 in 2017)
Estella Owoimaha-Church was a Global Teacher Prize Finalist – Top 50 – in 2017) and recipient of CTA Equity & Human Rights: Peace and Justice Award (2018). She teaches theatre and English in South Los Angeles. Co-creator of EN-ACT, Estella seeks to support teachers in art integration, social justice education, and social emotional learning. The daughter of migrants, racial justice both compels and informs her practice. Estella is active with several community organizations, including Creative Visions, Media Done Responsibly, RFK Human Rights, and United Nations #TeachSDGs Taskforce.

Thomas Rademacher (MN Teacher of the Year)
Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching on his blog.  His book, published by University of Minnesota Press, is called “IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching”.

Gloria Robertson (OR Teacher of the Year)
Gloria Pereyra-Robertson is Oregon 2017 State Teacher of the Year, OEA’s Presidential Citation Teacher of the Year, an NEA Teaching Excellence award winner, and a daughter of Mexican immigrants. She has dedicated over two decades to working in Title 1 schools, has taught in San Diego, CA, and is currently teaching kindergarten at Washington Elementary in Medford, OR.  Besides being a peer coach, mentor and cooperating teacher with SOU, Gloria is also an innovator who is currently working with Google to help find solutions to break down the language barriers for ELL students in the classroom.

Monica Washington (TX Teacher of the Year)
Monica Washington is an instructional coach for BetterLesson. Previously, she taught English III and AP English III at Texas High School in Texarkana where she served as department chair. She has been in education for 20 years and has taught grades 7-12. She has served as adjunct professor at LeMoyne-Owen College and Texarkana College.  Monica became Texas State Teacher of the Year in 2014. In addition, Monica is a 2015 Lowell Milken Center Fellow. She is also a 2015 NEA Foundation Global Fellow.

Kelisa Wing (DoDEA State Teacher of the Year)
Kelisa Wing is a Professional Development Specialist who previously served as an Assistant Principal, and an 8th grade English teacher. She is the 2017 DoDEA State Teacher of the Year, and a 2016 Association of Supervision, Curriculum, and Development (ASCD) Emerging Leader. She created a non-profit organization called #Squad Up for Education, Inc., to empower parents, students, and educators to commit to become partners in education. She also published a book called “Promises and Possibilities: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline”.

Maryann Woods-Murphy (NJ Teacher of the Year)
Dr. Maryann Woods-Murphy is a Gifted & Talented specialist in New Jersey and has taught for 38 years. She is also the 2010 NJ Teacher of the Year, the winner of the Martin Luther King Birthday Celebration Award, a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow, an America Achieves Fellow (2011-2015), and a member of the Board of the National Education Association Foundation and the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Woods-Murphy earned her Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership at Walden University. She has co-chaired Teens Talk about Racism for 18 years.

Abdul Wright (MN Teacher of the Year)
Abdul Wright has been an eighth-grade language arts teacher at The Best Academy in North Minneapolis for the past six years and is also an instructional coach and data team leader. In the Spring of 2016, he completed an African-American Leadership program and received a masters’ degree in education from Hamline University.  He received the Minneapolis PeaceMaker award from the city of Minneapolis in 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year award – the first Black male to receive the award, the youngest, and the first from a charter school.