Legal Notes: Navigating Name Changes

Summer 2022

By Megan Mann

shutterstock_142301254.pngThis article appeared as “Name Changes” in the Summer 2022 issue of Independent School.
Students—or their parents and guardians—may request that a school use a different first or last name on school documents or in the classroom for a variety of reasons, including gender identity or family changes. After speaking with schools across the country, we understand that this may play out in different ways depending on state law, school policy, student/parent preference, culture, and other considerations. While we always encourage schools to consult with legal counsel to help shape legally compliant policies, there are a few universal considerations to keep in mind when contemplating these requests.
Does the name change impact any legally required documents, such as transcripts or attendance records? Many schools opt to honor name-change requests for a variety of communications and documents (e.g., diplomas) but decline to do so on transcripts and attendance records. One option for schools to consider is changing the name on these documents after the family has submitted documentation of a legal name change. Laws impacting name changes vary from state to state, so consult with legal counsel when implementing a policy such as this. When a school updates these documents with a new name, it’s wise to keep a separate file with copies of the prior documents bearing the retired name, along with documentation of the request and a copy of any documentation demonstrating the legal name change.
Does the school have a policy that guides the decision? Some schools have policies in the student/family handbook that outline how name-change requests are handled. Additionally, other school policies do not directly address name changes but may impact how a school handles the request (e.g., policies outlining what types of information or requests from students will or will not be kept confidential from parents/guardians).
Is there a risk in honoring or not honoring the request? Students or their families may make the requests, and it’s important to remember that these family members may not agree on how the school should proceed. In addition to considering any applicable laws and policies, schools should also assess the risk of harm or other potential consequences to the student, family, and community when it is considering a name-change request.

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Megan Mann

Megan Mann is legal counsel and vice president of government relations at NAIS.