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Transgender teen sues school district for banning him from boys' locker room

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'They have robbed him of a normal high school experience,' his mother said.

Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A transgender boy has sued a Minnesota school district for allegedly banning him from using the boys' locker room at his high school, Pioneer Press reported.

"We are suing the school board and the school district for discriminating against N.H. because he is transgender. That violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the rights of equal rights and due process under the Minnesota state constitution," said David McKinney, an American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota lawyer.

The boy, who is identified as N.H. in the documents filed Monday, participated on the boys swim team in 2015-16. The teen claimed that he was required to use the "enhanced privacy" restroom and locker room at Coons Rapids High School.

"I didn't choose this battle. The school board chose us," the boy's mother, J.H., said Monday, according to Pioneer Press. "They have robbed him of a normal high school experience."

The amount of damages being sought is not immediately clear.

What's the background?

In 2015, N.H. reportedly joined the swim team as a freshman.

The documents claim that initially, he was allowed to use the same facilities as the other boys on the team.

Later, the school district banned him from the boys' facilities.

"He was told there would be consequences if he used the locker room with the rest of his classmates," Christy Hall, senior staff attorney for Gender Justice, told Pioneer Press.

N.H. was hospitalized days later for mental health issues, according to the complaint.

"They went out of their way and created a problem where there wasn't a problem; they conspired against my son," his mother, J.H., said.

The student's swim coach and teammates had been supportive of him, the documents showed.

Eventually, the teen transferred to a different school district to "escape discriminatory treatment."

What did the school district say?

The school district uses a case-by-case model to determine which facilities should be utilized by transgender students, it said in a statement about the lawsuit.

Anoka-Hennepin Schools is committed to providing a safe and respectful learning environment and to providing an education that supports all students and families, including transgender and gender nonconforming students.

The use of restrooms and locker rooms are determined on a case-by-case basis. The goal is to ensure that all students feel safe and comfortable. Plans for accommodation for restroom and locker room use are made in consultation with school building administrators, the Title IX coordinator, and superintendent in compliance with state and federal law. This approach is consistent with guidance from the National School Boards Association and the Minnesota School Boards Association. Providing privacy for all students is an important consideration.

Information regarding individual students is considered private student data and the district is not allowed to comment on such information.

Anoka-Hennepin is confident our actions conform with state and federal law.

What does the Minnesota Department of Education say?

In 2017, the education department issued a tool kit with guidelines regarding transgender students.

Title IX and the Minnesota Human Rights Act declare that it is an unfair discriminatory to deny any student the full and equal enjoyment of any educational institution such as a public school. Schools ensure full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations for students where they are not stigmatized or segregated from the rest of the general student population when in exercising their right to the public accommodation.

"A policy that requires an individual to use a bathroom that does not conform to his or her gender identity punishes that individual for his or her gender nonconformance, which in turn violates Title IX." Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District, (7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, May 30, 2017).

Within the school setting, school officials and leaders need to ensure that all students have access to restrooms, have access to locker rooms to fully participate in classes, sports and activities and have access to hotel accommodations when travelling with school groups for athletic, educational and/or cultural purposes.
Schools should work with transgender and gender nonconforming students to ensure that they are able to access needed facilities in a manner that is safe, consistent with their gender identity and does not stigmatize them.

Privacy objections raised by a student in interacting with a transgender or gender nonconforming student may be addressed by segregating the student raising the objection provided that the action of the school officials does not result in stigmatizing the transgender and gender nonconforming student.

Restrooms

Transgender and gender nonconforming students should be afforded the opportunity to use the restroom of their choice. Some students may feel uncomfortable with using a restroom with a transgender or gender nonconforming student. Any student who wishes not to share a restroom with a transgender or gender nonconforming student can be provided a private space such as a single-user restroom. Many schools have chosen to make single-stall restrooms available to all students. For example, some schools have re-purposed a staff restroom into a single user restroom for all students to use.

Locker Rooms

Students use locker rooms during their school day for physical education classes, sports and other activities. Some transgender and gender nonconforming students may prefer a private space while others may wish to use the locker room consistent with their gender identity. Coaches should consider how they can utilize privacy curtains, restrooms and separate changing schedules to provide for privacy for all students.
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