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School district sued over transgender student protections

December 10, 2021 GMT

HANOVER, Va. (AP) — The ACLU of Virginia is suing a Virginia school board over its refusal to comply with a 2020 law that requires districts to adopt protections for transgender students.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed the lawsuit in Hanover County on Thursday on behalf of five families, all of whom have transgender children enrolled in county public schools, The Washington Post reported.

The law required state education officials to set rules for the treatment of transgender students, then mandated that all school districts adopt guidelines mirroring those rules by the start of this school year.

Last month, the Hanover County School Board voted 4-to-3 against revising its rules that would have permitted transgender students to use bathrooms and attend sex-specific classes that match their gender identities. It’s the first such lawsuit against a district, although other systems have also denied or delayed granting transgender students access to sex-specific facilities. No district has faced punishment from state government officials so far.

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The lawsuit alleges the board “threatens transgender students’ entire identity, ostracizes them and deprives them of the basic humanity and belongingness where they have the same opportunities as cisgender students to thrive.”

“It is not the School Board’s practice to comment on pending litigation,” Ola Hawkins, the board’s chair, said by email Thursday.

The plaintiffs are asking a judge to force the school system to allow transgender children access to bathrooms that match their gender identities.

“My 13-year-old son only wants to use the boys’ bathroom like the other boys,” Kerry Merrill, one of the parent plaintiffs, said in a statement. “He deserves to feel safe at school.”

Research suggests there are about 4,000 transgender children in Virginia and studies show that transgender youth attempt suicide at a much higher rate than cisgender youth.

Backlash has swelled, most notably in Loudoun County, where a teacher is suing over the requirement that he address transgender children with their preferred pronouns.