When you think about court cases that have changed education, you probably think of the big ones, like Brown v. Board of Education. But what about the others?
Recently, during a conversation at NCTE we spoke with Robert Kim about some of the lesser known, but just as impactful, Supreme Court cases that continue to shape our education system. Bob is an education policy expert and former civil rights lawyer, and most recently the author of Elevating Equity and Justice: 10 U.S. Supreme Court Cases Every Teacher Should Know.
In this conversation, we focused on the current legal landscape of LGBTQ+ rights in our public schools…
Below is a full transcript of this episode. This transcript is machine-generated.
Brett: So Bob, as we sit here, the Supreme Court just heard a case about LGBTQ issues. They heard another case about transgender issues specifically. It's a scary time to be LGBTQ, especially trans. What should we be thinking about right now? Where are you looking at the landscape from a legal perspective, specifically looking at schools right now?
Bob: Yeah. I think it's incredibly important to realize that even though there have been some advances in civil rights for LGBTQ people in this country, you think about the gay marriage possibility that has now been with us for a couple of years and some improvements in understanding of gay kids and LGBTQ kids experiences, that that's not true across the country. There are so many schools and districts and communities around the country where it's terrifying to be gay, it's terrifying to be lesbian, it's terrifying to even be questioning that. And for trans kids, especially, we know that there's very few schools and districts around the country where they can live their lives, be called how they want to be called and have their gender identity be respected in terms of how they navigate the school.
So it is incredibly dangerous for many LGBTQ kids to be a student in this country. And so that's where the law has got to come into play to protect them in cases where there are not the adequate supports or protections in the community. If we look to what's currently in play legally, the U.S. Supreme Court has just heard a bunch of cases in the employment context, not in the school context, but in the employment context, in which the question is, does sexual orientation or transgender status have recognition within the federal employment law called Title VII?
The reason why that's so important for schools is because Title VII is a so-called sister statute to Title IX, which is the education statute covering sex discrimination in schools. So what happens in Title VII relates very closely to what can or will happen eventually with respect to Title IX. And so we should be watching the cases as to whether LGBTQ should be recognized in the employment sphere. We as educators should be watching that really closely to see whether students will be protected based on their LGB status or their transgender status in the school setting, and that will become much clearer to us when the Supreme Court rules about this in the middle of next year.
Brett: And again, as I've asked you in other podcasts, I'm a teacher listening to this, what is my takeaway? What should I be thinking about tomorrow as I walk into my classroom, especially if I'm a straight teacher and I want to help my LGBTQ students?
Bob: The studies show that supporting LGBTQ kids does not have to be complicated, even something as simple as having an ally sticker, some demarcation that makes all the kids know, regardless of whether somebody is going to come out to you or not, just to know that you're an ally for those kids can be incredibly powerful, especially in schools where there are no such visible signs of support for LGBTQ students. So being an ally and just subtle things to let them know that you're a person that they could talk to, whether or not they actually do, that you are someone that could be approached so that someone could self-identify to you, I think that's incredibly important.
We also know that organizations, student-led clubs like GSAs have a real palpable effect on safety for LGBTQ kids. Consider starting a GSA in your school if one doesn't exist. Consider being a faculty sponsor of GSA. Those are cropping up all over the country. They now exist in the hundreds, probably even thousands by now, and are a real great way to create safe spaces for kids.
For transgender students especially, we know that they are at incredible risk of violence at the hands of other students or other people in the community. So it's especially important that we make it clear that trans kids are accepted in schools and we have to work on policies that give some guidance to educators as to how students should be treated with respect to what pronouns to use, how the usage of facilities that are normally sex segregated would apply to transgender students and what additional training or supports or protections they would need to ensure that they're not feeling unsafe as they go to school and receive their education.
So these are some important things that are especially relevant for trans kids, given that we know the levels of violence and harassment that they face not only in school, but in society.
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Robert (Bob) Kim is a leading expert in education law and policy in the United States.
A former civil rights attorney, Bob is the co-author of Education and the Law, 5thed. and Legal Issues in Education: Rights and Responsibilities in U.S. Public Schools Today (West Academic Publishing, 2019 & 2017). He also wrote Let’s Get Real: Lessons and Activities to Address Name-calling & Bullying (Groundspark, 2004) and has advised thousands of educators on civil rights and school climate issues in public schools.
Bob currently serves as an education adviser and consultant on civil rights and equity issues. Through 2019, he was the William T. Grant Distinguished Fellow at Rutgers University, where he conducted research on school finance and education equity in U.S. public schools.
From 2011 through 2016, he served in the Obama Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, which enforces federal civil rights laws in K-12 and postsecondary institutions nationwide.
He has also served as a senior policy analyst at the National Education Association, where he advised school personnel on human and civil rights issues and worked to replace the No Child Left Behind Act.
Earlier in his career, as a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Bob engaged in litigation and advocacy pertaining to race, criminal and juvenile justice, bullying and harassment, LGBT rights, and student rights.
Bob holds a BA from Williams College and an JD from Boston College Law School.
You can find Bob on Twitter @bob__kim.