District Settles Federal Complaint By Transgender Student

By Mark Walsh — July 24, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A California school district has entered into a settlement agreement with federal civil rights officials over the district’s treatment of a transgender student.

The Arcadia Unified School District agreed to the settlement on July 24 with the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division and the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights. Under its terms, the district will treat like other male students a rising 9th-grader who was born female but now identifies as a boy.

The student, whose name is redacted in the public documents in the case, began identifying as a boy at a young age, according to his complaint. When asked to draw a self-portrait in school, he would always draw a boy. Around the age of 5 or 6, the student told his parents he was praying to God to be put in the male body he preferred, but that God wasn’t listening, the complaint says.

The student’s parents were supportive, and the child began a gender transition from female to male when he was in 5th grade, the complaint said.

When the boy entered middle school, officials refused the parents’ request to allow him to use male restroom and changing facilities, citing general concerns about privacy and safety. The student had to use a restroom in the school nurse’s office for bathroom needs and for changing for gym class. This resulted in missed class time.

In October 2011, the school district sponsored an overnight camping trip for all 7th graders. The transgender student was required to stay in a private cabin of his own, chaperoned by one of his parents.

A lawyer for the school district told the parents’ lawyer in a letter that California’s education code sets a reasonable limit on transgender rights.

“The district respectfully declines your request for [student] to be allowed to share a cabin which provides shared toilet, bathing and sleeping accommodations with the 7th-grade male students at the [name redacted] Science Camp,” the district lawyer said in the letter.

The student faced questions from other students about his arrangements and was “sad” during the trip, according to findings by federal officials.

The trip was the final straw prompting the family’s complaint to the Justice Department and the Education Department’s office for civil rights.

OCR staff members visited the district and the camp as part of their investigation. In the meantime, the parents obtained an identification document for their child identifying him as male, which prompted the school district to begin allowing him to use male facilities at school. Still, the family had concerns as the boy was preparing to enter high school this fall, and the two federal agencies pressed their investigation.

The school district entered into a voluntary “resolution agreement” establishing that the boy may continue to use male facilities and addressing district policies and training procedures for addressing transgender students.

“All students, including transgender students and students who do not conform to sex stereotypes, are protected from sex-based discrimination under Title IX [of the Education Amendments of 1972] and Title VI [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964],” said a letter summarizing the investigation. The letter was signed by Anurima Bhargava, the chief of the educational opportunities section of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, and Arthur Zeidman, the director of OCR’s San Francisco regional office.

“There is no dispute the district treated the student differently than other students because of his gender identity,” the letter adds.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a San Francisco-based legal group that represented the family, issued a statement praising the settlement that includes a comment by the transgender student.

“I am glad that my school district has agreed to put in place the protections that I, and other transgender students, need to feel safe and welcome in school,” the student said in the NCLR statement. “Knowing that I have the school district’s suppport, I can focus on learning and being a typical high school student, like my friends.”

There was no immediate comment on the settlement on the Arcadia school district’s website.

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