ACLU files lawsuit against Hanover County school board for failing to protect transgender students
The Virginia ACLU filed a lawsuit in Hanover County Circuit Court against the Hanover County School Board on behalf of five families, over the school board’s failure to enact policies protecting transgender students in accordance with state law and model policies of the Virginia Department of Education. .
All of the plaintiffs have transgender children who attend Hanover County public schools.
In March 2020, the General Assembly passed a law requiring all public schools in Virginia to adopt policies that ensure appropriate access to toilets and facilities consistent with a student’s gender identity, among other protections for students. transgender. The Virginia Department of Education has created model policies, including use of facilities, correct use of pronouns and names, confidentiality and security, dress codes, and more.
All school boards were to adopt consistent policies by the start of the 2021-2022 school year. In a public consultation at the school board meeting on November 9, the board’s own lawyer briefed them on the state’s mandate and on the continuing jurisprudence of Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, however, the school board deliberately voted to break the law.
“The Hanover County School Board denies transgender students a safe learning environment, even after understanding the risks this poses to the health and well-being of students, not to mention the legal liability that accompanies the violation of the law, ”said Eden Heilman, legal director of the Virginia ACLU. “There is no ambiguity in the vote of the school board. The council members knew that the council’s actions were discriminatory and outside the law, but they did it anyway. These students are forced to attend school in a school system that refuses to protect them, and every weekday morning our complainants say goodbye to their children while fearing for their safety. No parent should be coerced into this position.
“My 13-year-old son only wants to use the boys’ bathroom like other boys,” said Kelly Merrill, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “I have done everything I can to protect him from discrimination and bullying – including several emails to school administrators and even filing a Title IX complaint with the county – but I need that the school district do more. The lack of a clear district-wide policy means my son is doing everything he can to avoid using the bathroom. These laws exist for a reason: to protect my son and so many others. He deserves to feel safe at school.
According to a study by the Journal on Adolescent Health, 60% of young people who were discriminated against in the bathroom said they had thought about suicide. Additional research shows that transgender and non-binary students have significantly higher rates of depression and suicide attempts than cisgender students.
The plaintiffs are asking the circuit court to declare that the school board’s actions violated sections 22.1-23.3 of the Virginia code and to order the school board to adopt policies consistent with the VDOE model policies.
Information on the cases is available here: acluva.org/en/cases/hulette-et-al-v-hanover-county-school-board.