Supporters of transgender students praise a change that will see North Carolina public schools switch from showing students' legal names to their chosen names on most state records.
The state Department of Public Instruction notified school districts Friday that it's updating the school student information system to display a "preferred name" on most records. LGBTQ groups had lobbied for the change, saying that using the legal name harmed transgender students emotionally and put them at risk of being outed.
"It protects the privacy of transgender students and respects their identity," Craig White, supportive schools coordinator at the Asheville-based Campaign for Southern Equality, said in an interview Monday. "It respects who they are rather than misgendering or misidentifying them."
The change will go into effect during a system update later this month. The chosen name will appear on most records, such as state reports, student report cards, and teacher grade books.
DPI says the only report that will display the legal name is official state student transcripts.
Some conservative groups were upset by the change.
"It's not up to the public school system to change a student's name or his or her gender identity," Jim Quick, a spokesman for N.C. Values Coalition said in a statement Monday. "North Carolina law allows for changing birth certificates if a person has fully transitioned.
"That is the only circumstance under which the school system should be allowed to change a student's name or designated sex. Public schools should not be used as a tool for social engineering."
John Rustin, president of the N.C. Family Policy Council said it's more than just a change in a student database. He said it's a concern because many young people who assume a different gender identity choose to go back to their biological sex.
"This is a very dramatic change from our public school system," Rustin said in an interview Monday. "It would enable students who are very impressionable, who are suffering from gender dysphoria to be able to make very important changes on their school records that will follow them for the rest of their life."
Rustin said the public deserves to know more about PowerSchool changes, such as what would happen if a student and a parent disagree on the name to display.
In its Friday email, DPI said it's updating documentation that will give schools more specific details. DPI said the update would include a short demonstration video.
LWhite praised DPI and the State Board of Education for the change, saying it will help with school districts that are politically resistant to using the chosen name.
White said that transgender students have been contacting the group since the weekend to say it's a "world changer" for them. The anxiety and dysphoria of being confronted by their birth name — which some transgender people call their "dead name" — is something transgender students fear, according to White.
It won't be a change for most students since their legal name and preferred name are the same, White said. But White said it will make a big difference for transgender students who will now see their affirmed name on records.
"There is no downside to this other than showing respect for students," White said.