Minnesota Student Survey
On November 1st, 2016, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) issued a press release titled “A majority of teens report healthier behaviors and are thriving at school – Trouble spots includes e-cigarettes and mental health”. In this release, MDE summarized the findings from the 2016 Minnesota Student survey (MSS). Nearly 169,000 students in 5th, 8th, 9th and 11th grades provided responses and 85% of school districts participated. The MSS provides critical insight regarding the health, safety and engagement of students across the state. It also measures the support they receive at home, school and in the community.
Measuring a new Population of Students
Noticeably absent MDE’s press release was any mention of the demographic of students represented in the MSS for the very first time: transgender and gender minority students. New questions on the 2016 survey provided an opportunity for students in the 9th and 11th grades to answer questions about their gender identity and expression. Concerning gender identity specifically, the MSS asked “Do you consider yourself transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid, or unsure about your gender identity?”. Gathering information on gender identity is a huge step towards increasing visibility and awareness of gender diverse students. MDE and the MSS should be congratulated for including these questions despite vocal opposition to their “controversial” content.
However, including these questions is pointless if MDE is unresponsive to the data they provide. The results are in, and the students who self-identified as being transgender and gender diverse are not part of the “majority of teens” MDE describes as “healthier and thriving.”
Of the approximately 80,000 students participating in 9th and 11th grades, 2.5% of students consider themselves transgender or gender diverse (consider themselves is language taken from the question). Sadly, the discrepancies between these students and their cisgender peers are extreme and should serve as a clarion call to Minnesota educators and legislators. A small sample of the many troubling statistics show that when compared to their cisgender peers, gender diverse students report being:
- 3 times more likely to feel unsafe at school
- 4 times more likely to be bullied at school
- Twice as likely to feel unsupported by school staff, with 42% reporting that adults at school care about them either “not at all” or “only a little”
- Twice as likely to feel unsupported by their community, with 58% reporting that the adults in their community care about them either “not at all” or “only a little”
- 3 times more likely to engage in self-harm, with more than 50% reporting they purposely hurt themselves within the previous 12 months
- 3 times more likely to have “seriously considered attempting suicide”
- 5 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 38% vs 6% in 9th grade, 37% vs 8% in 11th grade
MDE offers a data tool to run further reports here: http://w20.education.state.mn.us/MDEAnalytics/DataTopic.jsp?TOPICID=242
Where does Minnesota go from here?
As of today, November 4th, 2016, MDE has been silent about the most alarming disparities ever recorded since the MSS began in 1989. While MDE is making efforts to provide guidance around gender inclusive practices and will potentially release model policy and practical resources this winter, immediate action is needed to address what should be considered a crisis in Minnesota schools. It is shamefully negligent to allow business-as-usual practices to continue while students who are gender diverse are not getting what they need.
Recent studies have suggested that affirming and supportive environments can mitigate the societal rejection causing mental health discrepancies for gender diverse students. Minnesota must take action now to remedy school environments that contribute to these disturbing rates of rejection, bullying, self-harm and suicide. Please contact the following stakeholders to demand immediate steps be taken address this state-wide emergency:
Call and email now!
Commissioner Brenda Cassellius
Deputy Commissioner Charlene Briner
MDE School Safety Technical Assistance Center:
Governor Mark Dayton