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Complaint Filed Over Bathroom Ban In Sumner Co.

Posted at 2:03 PM, May 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-19 23:41:14-04

A complaint has been filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights regarding Sumner County Schools’ policy which has prohibited transgender students from using restrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

Thursday, the complaint was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee stating the school system’s policy violates the requirements of federal anti-discrimination law and the United States Constitution.

According to reports, the complaint was filed on behalf of a transgender high school freshman and her parents.

Click here to read the full complaint.

“No student should have to endure the stigma and marginalization of being segregated from the rest of the student body,” said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney Abby R. Rubenfeld of the Rubenfeld Law Office, PC. “These kinds of blanket bans prevent transgender students from being treated fairly and equally at school. This policy is not only misguided, it’s a direct violation of Title IX and the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Those the complaint was filed for were identified only by using pseudonyms to protect from further stigmatization and bullying, according to those with the ACLU.

They’re asking for help enforcing federal law regarding the treatment of transgender students in public schools.

The student has been using the faculty and special needs bathrooms under the current district policy.

The complaint stated the student has been trying to avoid using the bathroom all day during school or has used the girls’ restroom with fear of punishment by school officials.

Those with the ACLU stated there have not been any “reported incidents or problems from her using the proper restroom for her gender identity and no proof offered that any student has been harmed by her use of the girls’ restroom.”

The student’s family sought legal help after unsuccessfully trying to work out accommodations throughout the 2015-2016 school year.

The school system was notified by letter of a desired meeting with the ACLU on March 4.

Click here to view the complete letter from March 4.

In that letter, the school system was urged to come to a reasonable solution with the family discreetly.

Those with the ACLU said the family wanted a solution without litigation, but according to reports, the school system in Sumner County was not willing to alter its restroom policy.

"In our experience, when transgender students, their families and school systems have been able to sit down and discuss a student’s particular situation, more often than not they are able to come to a workable solution together at the local level,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “In this instance, as always, we tried to work with the school district to find a practical solution. 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.”

The complaint has called for the student to be able to use the girls’ restroom and locker room. They have also asked that transgender students be treated the same as others.

Those with Sumner County Schools released the following statement Thursday, as provided by attorney Todd Presnell:

"The Sumner County Board of Education strives to provide all students with a quality education in a safe environment that is respectful to each of its 29,000 students.   In this spirit, the school system expressly prohibits harassment and bullying of any student, including transgender students, and also devised a set of guidelines to meet the needs of transgender students while respecting the interests of all students.  Under these guidelines, school administrators meet with transgender students’ parents to discuss the student’s needs.  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.  We are aware of and will take under consideration the guidelines recently issued by the Justice and Education Departments.  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."

Also on Thursday, Republican Congressman Diane Black issued a statement following the complaint:

“Washington liberals’ campaign to compromise the safety and privacy of our students in the name of hyper-political correctness has now hit our backyard,” Congressman Black said. “These days, a complaint by the ACLU is a sure sign you’ve done something right. From the organization’s work to silence expressions of faith in our schools to their attacks on laudable organizations like Boy Scouts of America, they’ve lost all credibility with Tennesseans and they know it. Nonetheless, if the ACLU wants to pick a fight with our Sumner County educators, then they’ll have to pick a fight with me as well. I sent my children to Sumner County public schools. I know our Director of Schools and the Chairman of the Board of Education. I have the utmost confidence in their ability to offer accommodations for transgender students while maintaining reasonable policies that protect the privacy and security of the student population as a whole and I stand with them in the face of this blatantly political complaint.”

Jennifer Donnals, Press Secretary for Governor Bill Haslam released the following statement:

The governor is aware of the complaint to the U.S. Department of Education. We will do everything we can to assist Sumner County if there is an investigation by OCR because the governor firmly believes decisions on sensitive issues such as these should continue to be made at the local level based on the unique needs of students, families, schools and districts while working closely with the local school board counsel.