The Massachusetts Department of Education on Friday issued directives for handling transgender students, including allowing them to use the bathrooms or play on the sports teams that correspond to the gender with which they identify.
The guidance was issued at the request of state board of education to help schools follow the state's 2011 anti-discrimination law protecting transgender people.
"These students, because of widespread misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about their lives, are at a higher risk for peer ostracism, victimization, and bullying," the document read.
Gunner Scott of Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition the welcomed the guidance, saying it would be "immensely helpful to those parents who have been struggling with making sure that the school environment is safe and welcoming of their child."
But the Massachusetts Family Institute said allowing transgender boys to use girls' bathrooms, and vice versa, endangers other students and violates their privacy.
"Fundamentally, boys need to be use boys' rooms and girls need to be using the girls' rooms, and we base that on their anatomical sex, not some sort of internalized gender identity," said Andrew Beckwith, general counsel for the institute.
The education department said it prepared the 11-page document after consulting policies in several states, as well as advocacy groups, parents and students.
The document said whether a student identifies as a boy or girl is up to the student or, in the case of younger students, the parents.
In all cases, "the student may access the restroom, locker room, and changing facility that corresponds to the student's gender identity," it said.
The guidance said some students may feel uncomfortable sharing those facilities with a transgender student but this "discomfort is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student." It urges administrators to resolve issues on a case-by-case basis, and recommends sufficient sex-neutral restrooms and changing areas.
The guidance also addresses what to do if other students consistently and intentionally refuse to refer to a transgendered student by the name or sex they identify as: "It should not be tolerated and can be grounds for student discipline."
Beckwith said the guidance forces students to ignore "a basic truth of anatomy" or face punishment. He also said the guidance is an end run around the state Legislature, which specifically excluded public accommodations, such as rest rooms and locker rooms, from the 2011 bill.
But education department spokesman JC Considine said school restrooms aren't public accommodations.
"We're talking about the use of school facilities by students who have no choice but to be in a school building," Considine said. "Kids have to have restroom access."
Scott said disciplining students who won't acknowledge a student's gender identity is appropriate because it amounts to bullying. He said the directives simply aim to create a safe learning place for a group that's statistically far more likely to be harassed.
"The reality is that it's about creating an inclusive environment for all students to learn," he said.
This program aired on February 16, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.