ACLU Fights Tennessee School’s Bathroom Ban

     (CN) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, claiming a Tennessee county denies transgender students access to bathrooms matching their gender identity.
     According to the Volunteer State’s ACLU branch, Sumner County does not allow transgender students access to bathrooms, locker rooms “and education opportunities that correspond to their gender identity.”
     The case centers on a transgender girl referred to in the complaint as “Mary Doe,” who met with school officials before her 9th grade school year to discuss bathroom policies.
     “In January 2016, Mary Doe and her parents were informed that the school had received complaints from students and that she would be prohibited from using the girl’s restroom in the future,” Thursday’s complaint states. “Neither she nor her parents have ever seen the alleged complaints.”
     On Wednesday, her parents were given a revised version of Sumner County’s school procedural guidelines, which “reiterates the policy that transgender students will not be allowed to use the locker room facilities that correspond with their gender identity,” according to the complaint.
     According to the ACLU, under the current policy, Doe is only allowed to use the faculty or special needs bathrooms, but she either tries to avoid using the bathroom during the day or “uses the girls’ restroom under fear of punishment by school officials.”
     “We respectfully request that the Office for Civil Rights find that Sumner County is violating Title IX by prohibiting Mary Doe from using female restrooms and locker rooms,” the complaint states.
     Thursday’s complaint follows a March 4 letter to Del Phillips III, director of Sumner County schools.
     “Allowing transgender students to access restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities or classes that correspond to the gender they live every day not only is in the best interest of the students, but also is required by federal antidiscrimination law,” the letter states.
     In a statement posted on its website, the Sumner County Board of Education said the school system “devised a set of guidelines to meet the needs of transgender students while respecting the interests of all students.”
     “Our schools allow transgender students to follow the dress code corresponding to their gender identity, address them with the name and pronoun corresponding to their gender identity, and provide alternative physical-education options. While transgender students must use the general restroom and locker room facilities corresponding to their birth gender, our schools provide alternative, private, unisex restrooms and changing facilities,” the school board said. “We believe that our guidelines, after due consideration, comply with federal law and meet the needs of transgender students while simultaneously maintaining the privacy rights of all students, regardless of gender or gender identity.”
     Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU-TN, said in a statement that transgender students, their families and school systems are usually able “to come to a workable solution,” but that wasn’t the case in Sumner County.
     “In this instance, as always, we tried to work with the school district to find a practical solution,” Weinberg said. “We now hope that the Office for Civil Rights will act quickly to ensure that transgender students in Sumner County are treated fairly and that the investigation results in the school system better understanding the needs of all students in their schools rather than acting out of fear, confusion and misunderstanding.”
     ACLU-TN cooperating attorney Abby Rubenfeld, who also worked on last year’s landmark Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling, said “blanket bans prevent transgender students from being treated fairly and equally at school.”
     “No student should have to endure the stigma and marginalization of being segregated from the rest of the student body,” Rubenfeld said in a statement.

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