All Students Benefit From a Strong and Inclusive Equity Code

Testimony from NJPP President Nicole Rodriguez before the New Jersey Board of Education.

Published on Sep 6, 2023 in General

Good Afternoon, Board Members,

I am Nicole Rodriguez, President of the New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), a nonpartisan research institution focused on state-level policies that advance economic, social, and racial justice.

Our stated mission at NJPP is to ensure all of New Jersey’s residents enjoy lives of dignity, opportunity, and economic security.[i] This includes our state’s students; over the past several years, we have centered our education policy work on ensuring that all children in our state have equitable access to high-quality, well-resourced schools and a broad, rich, and rigorous curriculum.

It is because we are concerned for all of New Jersey’s students that we come here today to support the Department of Education’s proposed amendments to what is commonly known as the “Equity Code.”[ii]

The proposed amendments define equity as “… all students have the opportunity to master the goals of the curriculum in an educational environment that is fair, just, and impartial to all individuals.”

This is a critical time for New Jersey to focus on educational equity. The pandemic and the return to in-person schooling have increased stress on our students. As we reported in 2022, nearly three-quarters of public schools in the Northeast reported an increase in students seeking mental health services since the start of the pandemic.[iii] Getting all students the support they need in school must be a top priority.

Even before the pandemic, a group of students remained especially vulnerable: transgender students. These students require more than mental health supports; they need teachers who are trained in supporting them; school communities that are welcoming, inclusive, and safe; a curriculum, particularly in sexual health, that addresses their needs; and opportunities to learn and grow similar to those we aspire to provide to all of New Jersey’s students.

The challenges and hostilities faced by all LGBTQIA+ students have been well documented.[iv] We should remember, however, that transgender students face specific risks. A recent survey found nearly three-fourths of transgender students felt unsafe at school based on their gender.[v] Another survey conducted in 20 states, including New Jersey, found that 64 percent of middle school students and 67 percent of high school students “…felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more that they stopped doing some of their usual activities.”[vi] A review of the research shows “…upward of 40 percent of all trans individuals consider or attempt suicide during adolescence or young adulthood.”[vii]

These disturbing facts should be a wake-up call for all policymakers in the state. Unfortunately, it appears that policies designed to bolster the rights of transgender children have, instead, been used to stoke unjustified fears of an attack on parental rights, furthering transphobia and bias against LGBTQIA+ students.

There is nothing in the proposed amendments that would abrogate the rights of parents; to the contrary, a strong Equity Code focused on fairness and justice for all students —including transgender students—supports the right of all parents, as guaranteed by the New Jersey Constitution, to give our children access to a thorough and efficient system of public schools.

Both federal and state law support the proposed amendments to the Equity Code. New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) clearly states schools cannot discriminate against transgender students based on their gender or gender expression.[viii] Title IX guidance from the United States Education Department states there cannot be discrimination against transgender students when classes are separated by sex.[ix] The proposed amendments, therefore, do little more than codify what is already in state and federal law.

In sum, the proposed amendments to the Equity Code will help guide policymakers in making New Jersey’s schools more just and fairer. Of course, these amendments are only a first step: action must follow. We believe it is important to follow the recommendations of the New Jersey Task Force on Transgender Equality,[x] particularly regarding the collection and publication of data on transgender and other LGBTQIA+ students, to ensure that districts are taking the steps necessary to implement the amended Equity Code in their schools.

We applaud the Department of Education’s commitment to equity and look forward to seeing the amended code implemented in our schools. Thank you.

End Notes

[i] New Jersey Policy Perspective; Our Work and Impact https://www.njpp.org/about/our-work-impact/

[ii] Proposed Readoption with Amendments at N.J.A.C. 6A:7, Managing for Equality and Equity in Education.


[iii] Weber, M. (2022). New Jersey’s Black Students Suffer a Decline in Access to School Mental Health Staff. New Jersey Policy Perspective. https://www.njpp.org/publications/report/new-jerseys-black-students-suffer-a-decline-in-access-to-school-mental-health-staff/#_edn2

[iv] Kosciw, J. G., Clark, C. M., & Menard, L. (2022). The 2021 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN. https://www.glsen.org/research/2021-national-school-climate-survey

[v] Ibid., p. 85.

[vi] Youth Truth (2022) Insights From the Student Experience, Part I: Emotional and Mental Health. https://youthtruthsurvey.org/emh/

[vii] Ashley Austin, Shelley L. Craig, Sandra D’Souza, and Lauren B. McInroy (2020) Suicidality Among Transgender Youth: Elucidating the Role of Interpersonal Risk Factors, Journal of Interpersonal Violence 2020 37:5-6, NP2696-NP2718.

[viii] New Jersey Law Against Discrimination N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. https://www.nj.gov/oag/dcr/downloads/NJ-Law-Against-Discrimination-Most-Updated.pdf

[ix] United State Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights: Questions and Answers on Title IX and Single-Sex Elementary and Secondary Classes and Extracurricular Activities (p. 25).


[x] New Jersey Transgender Equality Task Force. (2019) Report and Recommendations

Addressing Discrimination Against Transgender New Jerseyans. https://www.gardenstateequality.org/our-work/resources/

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