Education Min. issues first-ever guidelines for assisting LGBTQ children in school

The guidelines aim to ensure the mental well-being and emotional resilience of students struggling with various aspects of their sexuality or gender identity.

 People take part in a rally marking the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, on June 3, 2021.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
People take part in a rally marking the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, on June 3, 2021.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

A comprehensive document on the subject of providing care and assistance for LGBTQ students in Israel was published by the Education Ministry on Tuesday morning, marking the first time any such guidelines have been issued in the country.

Under the leadership of Education Minister Yifat Shasha Biton, the ministry has published the guidelines to offer a sense of protection and assistance to LGBTQ youth in the education system, as well as to LGBTQ families. 

The guidelines aim to ensure the mental well-being and emotional resilience of students who are struggling with personal, family, and social developments as a result of their sexuality or gender identity.

In a statement on the subject, the Education Ministry spokesperson explained that "the document presents guidelines with the aim of helping educational staff to provide members of the LGBTQ community with a tailored, sensitive and respectful response within the school, and to create a tolerant and protected environment inside educational institutions."

The document was compiled and published by the Psychological Consultative Service within the Education Ministry and in collaboration with the National Leadership of Parents, LGBTQ community organizations, academics and expert professionals.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton visits at the opening of the new school year in a school for ultra orthodox jewish boys, in Beit Shemesh, August 28, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton visits at the opening of the new school year in a school for ultra orthodox jewish boys, in Beit Shemesh, August 28, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Through the established guidelines, education professionals will be provided with the tools to handle a range of issues pertaining to LGBTQ students and parents, both within the educational framework and outside of it.

Referring to the "various currents in the education system," the ministry advised that "the implementation of the guidelines requires "sensitivity and cultural adaptation and, if necessary, consultation with the professionals of the Psychological Consultative Service."

While it is unclear what the exact "currents" the statement is referring to, it is possibly alluding to an anti-trans protest that was held outside a school in central Israel back in September after reports of a transgender boy being in attendance were leaked to the public.

What issues will be covered in the new guidelines?

The guidelines that will be issued to schools across Israel will cover six main topics, ranging from mandatory staff training, offering support to students struggling with their gender identity or sexuality, and ensuring that transgender children are safe and included in educational institutions.

In order to ensure that there is no room for exclusion and discrimination inside educational institutions, the guidelines stress that schools must ensure that "educational staff are trained on the subject, and will receive tools to act in an adapted and sensitive manner that takes into account the developmental stage of the children, and of course of the cultural and sectoral differences."

Educators have also been instructed to provide support and consultive dialogue with students who turn to them for help with issues of sexual orientation or gender identity while also ensuring that the confidentiality and privacy of the student are maintained.

The guidelines also place specific importance on providing care and support for transgender students, who have been the subject of increased negative attention in recent months.

In cases where it is deemed necessary after consultations with the student, and if possible, the student's parents), as well as a psychologist, psychiatrist and other professionals, schools must make changes to accommodate the student in a safe and comfortable manner.

 Israelis attend a demonstration in support of an Israeli transgender girl who was attacked at her school, outside the Education Ministry office in Tel Aviv, on April 28, 2019. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) Israelis attend a demonstration in support of an Israeli transgender girl who was attacked at her school, outside the Education Ministry office in Tel Aviv, on April 28, 2019. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

The issues that will be acted on in accordance with the guidelines include: Adjusting the use of gendered language, granting special accommodations in physical education classes, ensuring that the child's gender is respected in gender-segregated educational activities, as well as granting access to the bathroom and uniform that align with the student's gender identity.

With regard to gendered language, schools will be instructed to hold a dialogue with students in order to find out what their preferred language of address is, and the way in which it matches their gender identity.

According to the Education Ministry, "providing a tailored response will allow a feeling of protection and a beneficial response for both [the LGBTQ student population] and for all students."

Shasha Biton welcomed the implementation of the new guidelines, saying that: "The education system must provide an equal, proper, inclusive response to all students.

"The guidelines we formulated with the professional bodies express the experience gained over the years, and give every educational institution and its teaching staff the tools to create a safe space and a sense of protection and belonging for the LGBT students, their families, and all the partners in the school community."

Response to the new guidelines

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid congratulated the Education Ministry and Shasha Biton for the new guidelines and the sense of protection that they would bring to LGBTQ students.

"Every child deserves to feel safe at school," he said. "Any educational system that respects itself should be prepared on a professional and emotional level to accept each and every child and accompany them on their specific and appropriate path. 

"The challenges of the education teams are many, but if our children feel accepted and protected, their path to learning will be better."

Chairman of far-right Noam party Avi Maoz attacked the new guidelines in the Knesset plenum on Monday and mocked Shasha Biton asking her if she wanted him to refer to her as madam or sir.

"It's unfathomable that a moment before the Education Minister finishes her role, she releases a document from the psychological consulting service in the Education Ministry that in essence forces the progressive nonsense and the blurring of identity on the education system," he said.

"Has anyone asked the parents if they're okay with their children being messed around over odd identities? Do the parents know that boys and girls will be separated for accommodation on school trips not based on their biology but based on how they identify?"