Education

Appeals Court Follows Bench Ruling With Opinion Backing Pro-Transgender Policy

By Mark Walsh — June 19, 2018 2 min read

A federal appeals court has issued a written opinion following up on its unusual ruling from the bench in May that refused to block a Pennsylvania school district’s policy of permitting transgender students to use restrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

“Forcing transgender students to use bathrooms or locker rooms that do not match their gender identity is particularly harmful,” says the unanimous opinion of a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia.

The Boyertown Area School District adopted its pro-transgender policy for the 2016-17 school year, and it was soon sued by a group of four other students who felt uncomfortable sharing restrooms and locker rooms with transgender students. With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based legal advocacy group, the four students sued and sought an injunction to block the school district’s policy.

A federal district court rejected their claims, which include the argument that the district’s pro-transgender policy violates their privacy rights and runs counter to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination in federally funded education programs.

The 3rd Circuit appeals panel heard arguments on May 24 in the case, and after a brief deliberation, ruled from the bench to uphold the district court’s rejection of an injunction to block the district’s policy. The panel indicated that an opinion would be forthcoming in the case, Doe v. Boyertown Area School District.

The June 18 written opinion by U.S. Circuit Judge Theodore A. McKee cited district court testimony and friend-of-the-court briefs to conclude that policies excluding “transgender individuals from privacy facilities that are consistent with their gender identities have detrimental effects on the physical and mental health, safety, and well-being of transgender individuals.”

Such exclusionary policies “exacerbate the risk of anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, engaging in self-injurious behaviors, suicide, substance use, homelessness, and eating disorders among other adverse outcomes,” McKee said.

The judge quoted a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the National Education Association in support of the school district. A policy such as that of the Boyertown district fosters an environment of inclusivity, acceptance, and tolerance, and such values serve an important educational function for both transgender and other students, the NEA’s brief said.

McKee expressed some sympathy for the privacy concerns of the students who did not wish to use restrooms or change in locker rooms where transgender students would be present. But he said those students remained free to use privacy stalls the district has provided or single-user restrooms. The burden on students who chose to use such facilities is much less than the harms imposed on transgender students who would be forced to use them if the students who brought the challenge prevailed, the judge said.

“The Boyertown Area School District has adopted a very thoughtful and carefully tailored policy in an attempt to address some very real issues while faithfully discharging its obligation to maintain a safe and respectful environment in which everyone can both learn and thrive,” McKee said.

A lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom told Education Week last month, when the bench ruling came down, that its clients would consider an appeal of the 3rd Circuit court’s decision.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read