ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney: Abby R. Rubenfeld of the Rubenfeld Law Office, PC
Sumner County Schools has a policy which prohibits transgender students from using the restroom or locker room facilities that correspond to their gender identity. In addition, transgender students were being excluded from classes that have gender-specific or gender-segregated components, such as physical education and sex education.
ACLU-TN represents transgender high school student, Mary Doe, and her parents. Because of the school district policy, Mary Doe is only allowed to use the faculty or the special needs bathroom at her school. To avoid the stigma of using segregated restrooms, she either tries to avoid using the restroom at all during the school day, or uses the girls’ restroom under fear of punishment by school officials. There have been no reported incidents or problems from her using the proper restroom for her gender identity and no proof offered that any student has been harmed by her use of the girls’ restroom.
After trying unsuccessfully to resolve the situation with the school system on their own, the family sought legal assistance. On March 4, 2016, ACLU-TN sent a letter to the director of schools requesting a meeting to resolve the issues. The letter urged the school system to discretely come to a reasonable solution in collaboration with the family, specifically stating ACLU-TN’s and the family’s desire to handle the situation without litigation. The school system remedied the problem with gender-segregated classes by making physical and sex education classes co-ed; however, the school system remained unwilling to alter its restroom policy to conform to the requirements of federal law and the needs of the students involved.
On May 19, 2016, ACLU-TN filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights stating that Sumner County Schools’ policy prohibiting transgender students from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity violates the requirements of federal anti-discrimination law and the U.S. Constitution. The complaint calls for the district to be required to permit the student to use the girls’ restrooms and locker rooms at school, and to create a new policy ensuring that transgender students be treated the same as other students.
The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice recently released guidance clarifying that schools receiving federal funding are obligated under Title IX to protect all students from sex discrimination, including transgender students. According to the guidance, transgender students must be allowed to access restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
The Office for Civil Rights Complaint is still pending.
ACLU-TN Letter to Sumner County Schools on Transgender Policy (March 4, 2016)