Ohio School District Sues Over Federal Non-Discrimination Guidelines Protecting Transgender Students

By Megan Clayton • June 21, 2016 • 1:57 pm

Rather than respect a student’s gender identity, a Columbus, Ohio-area school district is suing the Department of Education to block a transgender girl from using the restroom at school.


The lawsuit was sparked when a transgender girl in grade school requested to use the girls’ restroom at her school in the Highland Local School District. The request was denied by the school, so the student’s family filed a civil rights complaint with federal education officials in 2013. The U.S. Department of Education intervened this year, giving the school district until June 28 to comply with federal guidelines or face enforcement action. The District’s board filed the lawsuit in response on Friday, June 10.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued guidance to public schools across the country outlining what their responsibilities are to transgender students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and how both DOJ and DOE will evaluate a school’s compliance. Schools who refuse to allow transgender students to use restrooms and other school facilities consistent with their gender identity run afoul of these federal guidelines and risk losing federal education funding if they remain noncompliant.

A federal appellate court recently affirmed the federal government’s interpretation of Title IX protections following a similar case in Virginia. On April 19, the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit—which includes South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland—ruled in favor of a transgender high school student who had been prohibited from using the boy’s bathroom despite his male gender identity. The discriminatory policy, the 4th Circuit ruled, is in clear violation of the federal Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in schools receiving federal financial assistance. The Department of Education has also settled similar complaints with two other school districts, in Palatine, IL, and Arcadia, CA.

The bottom line is about student health and safety. Restricting or denying transgender students access to restroom facilities can cause serious physical health problems, since students often will avoid eating or drinking water during the day so that they don’t have to use an unsafe restroom. In fact, more than 75 percent of transgender students report feeling unsafe in school, and more than 63 percent of transgender students avoid using public restrooms because of fears of harassment or assault.

School districts that sue over federal guidelines intended to keep transgender students safe are simply sending the message that discrimination is OK. Students in Ohio and across the country deserve better. Freedom For All Americans will be monitoring this case closely and supporting our legal partners in the court of public opinion as the case moves into the federal court system.

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