ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Two schools accused of discrimination against transgender students recently resorted to payout settlements and policy changes. The settlements do not bode well for schools that maintain traditional policies on gender, gender transitions, and restroom use.
Nova Classical Academy, a charter school in St. Paul, Minn., agreed on Aug. 7 to adopt a far-reaching gender inclusion policy and pay a child’s parents $120,000. The agreement ended a 16-month legal battle initiated in 2016 by David and Hannah Edwards, the parents of a then-kindergartener who was born a boy but wanted to identify as a girl.
The Edwardses argued the school failed to protect their child from “persistent gender-based bullying and hostility.” After agreeing to a plan for the child’s “social gender transition” at school, Nova administrators informed the Edwardses that they wanted first to notify the parents in the class and allow them to opt out of having the information shared with their kindergarteners.
The Edwardses withdrew their child and sued for discrimination.
Under the terms of the settlement, Nova agreed to a new gender inclusion policy, including key provisions requiring the school to “adhere to parent’s/student’s timeline for social transition” and stating the school cannot allow families to “opt out of any information or instruction necessary to create a safe and affirming school environment during the transition process.” The policy specifically noted Nova parents cannot opt out for religious or conscience objections.
Another settlement finalized in recent weeks involved three transgender students in a Pittsburgh-area school district. The students sued the Pine-Richland School District over a restroom policy requiring students to use either unisex restrooms or the restroom that matches their biological sex.
According to the settlement, obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the district agreed to pay each student $20,000 and attorney fees, rescind the previous restroom policy, and update its nondiscriminatation policy to include gender identity.
In February, a Pennsylvania federal judge ordered the district to allow the students to use the restrooms of their choice while the lawsuit proceeded. Judge Mark Hornak said the students were likely to win the case on equal protection grounds and dismissed claims that allowing transgender students in opposite-sex restrooms was a privacy violation.
And the lawsuits continue.
In early August, a transgender 8-year-old and the student’s parents sued an Orange County, Calif., private school for preventing free gender expression. The suit alleges the school, Heritage Oak Private Education, did not adequately support second-grader Nicole Brar, who was born a boy.
The school maintains it was working with parents Priya Shah and Jaspret Brar and an outside consultant to initiate a plan for a midyear gender identity change.
“Unfortunately, these accommodations were rejected, and the parents withdrew their child,” said the school.
The Brar family said the school refused to allow Nicole to wear the girls’ uniform, to use the girls’ restroom, and to be called by female pronouns.
The complaint demands the school pay damages for emotional distress and discrimination and more than $10,000 in school tuition and fees, as well as adopt a nondiscrimination policy toward transgender students, train staff in the policy, and incorporate transgender identity into its student curriculum.
The Brar case is important because it expands the scope of these lawsuits: This complaint is against a private school and alleges the business, not the government, violated state antidiscrimination laws and fraudulently advertised it would care for the “whole child.”
— by Kiley Crossland