Law & Courts

High Court Declines to Hear School Board Challenge to Scope of Transgender Student Rights

By Mark Walsh — June 28, 2021 3 min read
Gavin Grimm, who has become a national face for transgender students, speaks during a news conference held by The ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia at Slover Library in Norfolk, Va on July 23, 2019.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Supreme Court, over the dissent of two justices on Monday, declined to take up the appeal of a Virginia school district in a long-running case about the right of a transgender student to use restrooms consistent with his gender identity.

The court’s action in the case involving transgender student Gavin Grimm was not a ruling on the merits of the case. But it does bring a long legal battle to a close and leaves in place a federal appeals court decision that the Gloucester County, Va., district violated both the equal protection clause and Title IX by adopting a policy that barred Grimm from the boys restroom.

“I am glad that my years-long fight to have my school see me for who I am is over,” Grimm, who graduated from Gloucester County High School in 2017, said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents him. “Being forced to use the nurse’s room, a private bathroom, and the girl’s room was humiliating for me, and having to go to out-of-the-way bathrooms severely interfered with my education. Trans youth deserve to use the bathroom in peace without being humiliated and stigmatized by their own school boards and elected officials.”

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., had ruled 2-1 in 2020 that both the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law that bars sex discrimination in federally funded schools, protect transgender students from school restroom policies that prevent the students from affirming their gender identity.

The 4th Circuit court majority took account of the then-recent Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., which held that the prohibition against discrimination “on the basis of sex” including in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protected employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The appellate court said the logic of the Bostock decision applied to Title IX.

The school district, in appealing to the high court in Gloucester County School Board v. Grimm (Case No. 20-1163), said the 4th Circuit’s reliance on Bostock was misplaced because Title IX is a “vastly different statute” than Title VII. Title IX allows for sex-separated living facilities on school campuses and its regulations allow for sex-separated restrooms, the district argued.

“A teenager who identifies with the opposite biological sex … deserves and needs everyone’s compassion,” the district said in its brief. But allowing such a teenager “to use multi-user restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities reserved for the opposite sex raises what this court has acknowledged to be serious concerns about bodily privacy—for the teenager and others,” the brief said.

David P. Corrigan, the Gloucester County district’s longtime lawyer, said the district had no comment about the high court’s action.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they would have granted review of the case. Alito wrote the main dissent in the Bostock case last term, joined by Thomas, that discussed with dismay what the Title VII ruling might mean for interpreting Title IX’s protection against sex discrimination, particularly in the area of transgender female students’ participation in girls’ and women’s school sports.

Given how much is percolating around the country with transgender student rights in contexts beyond school restrooms, including locker rooms and athletic competitions, some Supreme Court justices may believe that the Gloucester County case was not the best vehicle to address whether Title IX’s bar on sex discrimination works the same way as the court interpreted the sex-bias clause in Title VII.

Josh Block, who represents Grimm for the ACLU, noted that Monday’s action was the third time in recent years that the Supreme Court has declined to review federal appeals court rulings in favor of transgender students.

“This is an incredible victory for Gavin and for transgender students around the country,” Block said in a statement. “Our work is not yet done, and the ACLU is continuing to fight against anti-trans laws targeting trans youth in states around the country.”


Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
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.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Proven Strategies to Improve Reading Scores
In this webinar, education and reading expert Stacy Hurst will provide a look at some of the biggest issues facing curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teachers working in reading education today. You will: Learn how schools
Content provided by Reading Horizons

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Major Cases on Affirmative Action in Education
The outcome could affect K-12 policies when the justices rule on race-based policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.
3 min read
A man talks on his phone on the steps of Harvard University's Widener Library, in Cambridge, Mass. on June 26, 2020.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up major cases on affirmative action in admissions at Harvard University, above, and at the University of North Carolina.
Elise Amendola/AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court to Hear Case of Coach Who Prayed After Games in Defiance of School District
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether school districts may prohibit private religious expression by public school employees.
4 min read
Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy is in a conflict with the Bremerton, 
Wash., school district over his silent prayer after games.
Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joseph A. Kennedy stands at on the 50-yard line at Bremerton Memorial Stadium. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal over his dismissal for praying after football games.
Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun via AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court Blocks Biden Vaccine Mandate Applying to Schools in Much of the Country
The justices ruled 6-3 to stay an Occupational Health and Safety Administration rule that covered schools in 26 states and two territories.
4 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo last April.
The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal vaccine mandate for large employers, including school districts in about half the states.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP
Law & Courts Students Lose Appeal on Right to Civics Education, But Win Praise From Judges Anyway
A federal appellate court panel commended Rhode Island students for the novel effort, but said Supreme Court precedent stood in the way.
3 min read
Scales of justice and Gavel on wooden table and Lawyer or Judge working with agreement in Courtroom, Justice and Law concept.
Pattanaphong Khuankaew/iStock