Suits in Ohio, Minn. join list of Title IX challenges

by Bonnie Pritchett/WORLD News Service, posted Monday, September 19, 2016 (one year ago)

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP)-- Lawsuits recently filed in Ohio and Minnesota have joined the burgeoning docket of cases challenging the Obama administration's Title IX guidance on gender identity and restroom use in public schools. The suits illustrate the issue's divisiveness -- the Ohio school district refuses to accept the federal government's demands, while the Minnesota district accepted the redefinition of "sex," prompting parents to sue.

Families in Virginia also are challenging a local school district's decision to adopt new definitions of gender and sex, and last week the state supreme court agreed to hear that case in the coming months. An unidentified student and that student's parents, along with a school district resident, sued the Fairfax County School Board after it voted to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in its nondiscrimination policy. A lower court upheld the policy, and the families appealed.

Attorney Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, which represents the plaintiffs, argued the school board's decision violated state law prohibiting local entities from establishing nondiscrimination policies more comprehensive than state law, which does not include the district's three additions.

Due to parental backlash and the advancement of a similar case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the school board voted in July to temporarily suspend the policy pending further review. In a statement released after a closed-door session, the board said "it needs additional time to evaluate the legal issues surrounding the regulation, including a case now pending before the Supreme Court on this topic from a Virginia school district."

The other case involves a transgender student's lawsuit against the Gloucester County School Board, which wants to keep locker rooms separated by biological sex. The U.S. Supreme Court indicated in August it would hear that case.

Meanwhile a group of Minnesota parents added their lawsuit, Privacy Matters v. DOE, to the growing list of plaintiffs outraged by what their attorneys call a "legally baseless directive" and their school district's submission to the federal demands.

Before school started this year, the Virginia School District, about 60 miles north of Duluth, Minn., amended its nondiscrimination policy to include protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. The changes came following the May release of a Department of Education and Department of Justice "guidance letter" directing all publicly funded schools to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice.

As a result, a male student who identifies as female joined the girls' track team and began using the girls' locker room to change for workouts. In the subsequent lawsuit, filed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the student is referred to as "Student X."

"Early in the season, Student X changed fully or partially in a restroom stall, but then after changing he would sit on a bench in the locker room while Girl Plaintiff A and other girls changed their clothes," the lawsuit states.

Before long, Student X began changing in front of the girls, "stripping down to tight women's boy short-style underwear" and "would dance in a sexually explicit manner -- 'twerking,' 'grinding' or dancing like he was on a 'stripper pole' to songs with explicit lyrics," according to the lawsuit.

When district administrators refused to rectify the situation, parents sued. The lawsuit, filed Sept. 7 in district court, asks the court to suspend the local policy and invalidate the Department of Education's Title IX interpretation.

In Ohio, the Highland Local School District has refused to comply with the DOE directive. In a lawsuit challenging the guidance, the district said it will not allow "a student who professes a gender that conflicts with that student's biological sex to access intimate facilities like overnight accommodations, locker rooms, showers, and restrooms designated for and used by students of the opposite sex."

ADF filed a motion in July on behalf of the district's Board of Education, asking a federal court to prevent the DOE from withholding federal funds from the district while the lawsuit is pending.

"Defendants and their agents are openly and aggressively threatening to revoke those schools' federal funding simply because they are trying to balance the rights and interests of all students," the lawsuit states.

Noncompliance could cost the Highland Local School District up to $1 million a year in federal funding -- much of that earmarked for special education and lunch programs for underprivileged students, according to the district.

Bonnie Pritchett writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine (www.worldmag.com) based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.
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