LOS ANGELES (AP) – The U.S. government reached an agreement Wednesday with a Southern California school district to resolve claims the district discriminated against a transgender student.
The deal between federal investigators and the Arcadia Unified School District follows a probe into the district’s handling of the student, who was born female but whose gender identity is male.
Advocates hope the agreement, which calls for the district to amend its policies to address gender-based discrimination, will lead other school districts across the nation to implement equality provisions.
“We hope that districts will see this and say this is what the government is looking for us to do,” said Asaf Orr, an attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which filed the complaint in October 2011 on behalf of the California student.
The student wasn’t able to use boys’ bathrooms and locker rooms while attending a middle school. When he was 12-years-old, he also was prevented from staying with other boys during a school-sponsored field trip at a science camp. His parents asked district officials to allow their son to stay in a cabin with male peers, but the request was refused and the student had to stay in a cabin on his own with an adult chaperone.
District officials have cited safety and privacy concerns for their decisions. A phone message left for district Superintendent Joel Shawn was not immediately returned.
As part of the agreement, the student will now be able to use boys’ bathrooms and locker rooms. The school district also will train staff on preventing gender-based discrimination and will work with a consultant to support a learning environment that is beneficial for transgender students.
In a statement, the student, whose name wasn’t released by officials because he’s a juvenile, said he’s encouraged that he’ll now have protections that he and other transgender students need to feel safe in school.
“Knowing that I have the school district’s support, I can focus on learning and being a typical high school student, like my friends,” said the teen, now 14, who will be a freshman in high school this upcoming school year.
Orr said the teen identified as being a boy from as early as 2 years old. He began his gender transition in 5th grade and was teased at school because of his masculine clothing and hairstyle. He was harassed during another district-sponsored overnight trip when he was assigned to a girls’ cabin. One classmate referred to him as “it.”
“It was just a terrible experience,” Orr said. “The family didn’t want a repeat of what happened during the first field trip.”
The Justice Department and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights have resolved a number of recent gender-based cases in public schools. Federal law prohibits discrimination against students based on sex.
Last year, the government entered into a consent decree addressing harassment against students who do not conform to gender stereotypes in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District. Two years ago, officials entered into an agreement with the Tehachapi Unified School District in California to resolve a similar complaint of harassment against a gay student who did not conform to gender stereotypes.
Earlier this month, California lawmakers approved a bill that would require public schools to let transgender students choose which restrooms they use and which school teams they join based on their gender identity instead of their chromosomes. Some school districts around the nation have implemented similar policies, but the bill would mark the first time a state has mandated such treatment by statute.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.