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Educators Await Supreme Court Outcome on Transgender Students’ Rights

In October 2014, Galvin Grimm, a student at Gloucester High School in Virginia, received permission from his principal to use the boys’ restroom. Galvin was a transgender male, and some students and parents complained about this use.

In reaction, the Gloucester County School Board issued a policy stating, “Students with gender identity issues shall be provided an alternative appropriate facility.” Grimm’s parents believed the policy went against their son’s rights under the federal Title IX policy. They sued the school board in federal court, and the case rests in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Maree Sneed, senior associate at the Hogan Lovells law firm in Washington, D.C., and Michelle Tellock, a partner at the firm, led a round table discussion, Transgender Students: School’s Responsibilities and Best Practices, at the AASA national conference on Thursday. The lawyers discussed how both the Gloucester case and the Trump administration could impact the lives of transgender students across the country.

In 2015, the Obama administration drafted the “Dear Colleague Letter” that addressed transgender students’ rights. The letter stated, “A school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”

However, under the Trump administration, these views shifted dramatically. On Feb. 23, the U.S. departments of education and justice retracted the “Dear Colleague Letter.” Since its withdrawal, educators are unsure about the Supreme Court’s decision, the lawyers said.

“The Supreme Court could decide that the case is too complicated and hand the case back to lower level courts since the facts have changed,” Tellock said. “Or the Supreme Court could decide to make the decision that Title IX protects transgender students. We cannot predict what is going to happen.”

Sneed said that in response to recent developments, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut issued an executive order to support transgender students.

“After the letter was redrawn, he said this is the policy of Connecticut,” Sneed said. “Whatever the kid’s gender identity is they get to go that bathroom.”

Lois Douies, a superintendent in Washington, told the two attorneys how she created policies in her district that allow students to feel comfortable in school.

“We will work with the student,” Douies said. “We tell them, find your comfort zone, find people who relate with you and build it out as you go.”

Douies said she believes students know how to deal with having transgender peers. “The truth of the matter with these new generations coming out, they have been so much more practical,” she said. “Some parents and community members are the ones who have issues.”

Douies urges school administrators to do more than simply acknowledge students’ needs. “Do not tolerate them, embrace them,” she said. “It is about the kids.”

The two lawyers said states independently may decide how to handle transgender students’ rights, which may not necessarily be supportive of transgender students. In the case of Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., the oral argument before the Supreme Court will take place on March 28.

(By Prinsey Walker, a sophomore at Xavier University)

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