Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Two Federal Courts Side with Transgender Students
In the last two weeks, two different federal courts in Ohio and Wisconsin have held that the federal Title IX protects transgender students from discrimination, including being forced into a separate restroom. Both cases involved students who had struggled with their schools over multiple school years before turning to the courts.
In Wisconsin, a federal court ordered the Kenosha Unified School District to allow student Ash Whitaker to use the boys’ restrooms on the same terms as other boys at his high school. Previously, Ash’s school ordered him to use a restroom in the school office, which was far from his classes and not used by other students. The school directed security guards to monitor Ash’s bathroom use. Because using this restroom was so far out of the way, and humiliating, Ash avoided drinking liquids at school, and his physical and mental health suffered. The court ruled that the school had likely violated Title IX and the Constitution, disagreeing with a recent ruling by a Texas court. This federal court ordered the school to immediately allow Ash to use the boys’ restrooms while the case is argued, to prevent Ash “spending his last school year trying to avoid using the restroom, living in fear of being disciplined, feeling singled out and stigmatized, being subject to fainting spells or migraines.”
In Ohio, a federal court ordered the Highland Local School District to allow a student, referred to as “Jane Doe,” to use the girls’ restrooms just like other girls at her elementary school. Jane’s school had required her to first use the office restroom, then another staff restroom inside the faculty lounge, where teachers would glare at her as she came and went. Jane’s parents repeatedly begged the school to reconsider, given the harassment and isolation Jane faced, and its toll on her mental health. When the school did not change its policy, the family filed a complaint with the US Department of Education, which after investigating told the district that it was violating the law. The district then sued the federal government, and Jane and her family joined in the case on the defense. The court ruled that the district had likely violated Title IX and the Constitution, pointing to several appeals court rulings in Ohio and other places, that federal sex discrimination laws do protect trans people. The court sided with Jane stating, “At bottom, Highland cannot show that its refusal to let Jane use the girls’ restroom is substantially related to its interest in student privacy.” The court found, based on a brief filed by school administrators in 20 states, that “school districts that have encountered these very issues have been able to integrate transgender students fully into the academic and social community without disruption.” The court also found that: “The stigma and isolation Jane feels when she is singled out and forced to use a separate bathroom contribute to and exacerbate her mental-health challenges. This is a clear case of irreparable harm to an eleven-year-old girl.” The court concluded: “The Court orders School District officials to treat Jane Doe as the girl she is.”
NCTE applauds the attorneys at the Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and private law firms who are representing Ash Whitaker and Jane Doe.