Tuesday 16 July 2019

'We've had a few negative calls' - Wicklow school on decision to introduce gender-neutral uniform policy

Saint Brigid's national school in Greystones.
Pic:Mark Condren
20.6.2019
Saint Brigid's national school in Greystones. Pic:Mark Condren 20.6.2019

Callum Lavery

A Wicklow primary school says it has had "a few negative phone calls" after it was announced they would introduce a gender-neutral uniform policy.

St. Brigids, National School in Greystones will now allow all students to wear the uniform that they feel the most comfortable in, meaning male students can wear dresses and female students trousers.

Previously, a strict dress code meant female students had to wear a green tartan pinafore while a green jumper and grey trousers were compulsory for all males students.

Chairperson of the school's board of management, Tom Sherlock said he hopes the new policy change will help students questioning their gender and was brought forward by the students themselves.

"It all started when four girls in one of the senior classes approached Principal Marie Costello with the idea because they were concerned that one child in the school was uncomfortable with the current uniform policy.

"Ms Costello asked them to develop the idea and do some research on it, which they did. She was hugely impressed with their work and brought it before the Board of Management.

"We decided to ask parents for their opinion on the school email system, and we did not receive any negative responses.

"From the beginining o the next term there will be a gender neutral school policy in place."

The school has also beginning to introduce gender neutral bathrooms with the junior infants students and and plans to move this to older years in the future.

Since the news was announced Mr Sherlock said negative responses from parents have been minimum.

"We have had a few negative phone calls, mostly from anonymous callers to the school and we did have a phone call from a  parent complaining that he was not told of the change but we were able to show that parents were notified.

"The vast bulk of our parents have been hugely supportive.

"There will always be people who will be opposed to this that is for sure, but what is most important is that even one student feels more comfortable now.

The move comes after gender neutral policy was recommended to Irish schools in 2016 by then Education Minister, Jan O'Sullivan.

The Being LGBT in Schools guide book advised schools to allow transgender students to wear the uniform they preferred and "access toilet and changing facilities that correspond with their gender identity."

Ms O'Sullivan said she was pleased to see the recommendation were being adopted in St. Brigid's.

"I welcome this news very much, particularly because it is coming from the children within the school themselves.

"It allows a space that children who may be unsure about their gender to be comfortable and I think the department should advise more schools to consider implementing this and monitor progress in this school as well.

"For people in my generation it was not something that we would not have considered but it is a very real reality for young people today.

"People are questioning gender at younger ages and it is up to the schools to ensure that they can do so in a welcoming environment."

CEO of LGBT organisation BeLong To, Moninne Griffith said that similar projects are planned in more schools across the country.

"There are many schools across Ireland who are working with us to create safe, supportive, and welcoming learning environments for trans students," she said.

"We hope other schools will follow suit and create safe and supportive environments for all their students."

On the negative comments the news has received, Chairperson of Trans Equality Network Ireland (TENI), Sara Philips said backlash is to be expected.

"I think every situation on trans issues brings negative comments, especially when young people are involved. Parents often focus on how it will affect their children, which is understandable and to be expected.

"But the negativity often comes from a lack of information and understanding and I think if we focused more on the child questioning their gender, and how it would improve their life, the response would be much better."

The Department of Education said:

"The school’s decision on uniforms was arrived at following consultation between students and the school management. Since 2013 schools have been encouraged to ballot parents on school uniform policy. This move was aimed at giving parents a say on what, if any, uniforms a school should have and, in turn, tackling the high costs of some uniforms."

The Department said it did not have data on uniform policies in schools across the country.

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