Today, the ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit in Hanover County Circuit Court against the Hanover County School Board on behalf of five families, due to the school board’s failure to adopt policies protecting transgender students in accordance with state law and the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies. All plaintiffs have transgender children who attend public schools in Hanover County.
In March 2020, the General Assembly passed a law mandating that all public schools in Virginia adopt policies ensuring appropriate access to bathrooms and facilities in line with a student’s gender identity, among other protections for transgender students. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) created model policies, including use of facilities, correct pronoun and name usage, privacy and security, dress codes, and more. All school boards were required to adopt consistent policies by the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. In a public consultation during the November 9, 2021 school board meeting, the board’s own attorney advised them of the state mandate and standing case law from Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, yet the school board willfully voted to violate the law.
“The Hanover County School Board is denying transgender students a safe learning environment, even after understanding the risks it poses to the health and well-being of students, not to mention the legal liability that comes with breaking the law,” said Eden Heilman, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia. “There’s no ambiguity in the school board’s vote. The board members knew the board’s actions were discriminatory and outside the law, but they did it anyway. These students are compelled to attend school in a school system that refuses to protect them, and each weekday morning, our plaintiffs say goodbye to their kids while fearing for their safety. No parent should be forced into that position.”
“My 13-year-old son only wants to use the boys’ bathroom like the other boys,” said Kelly Merrill, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “I’ve done everything I can to protect him from discrimination and bullying – including multiple emails to school administrators and even filing a Title IX complaint with the county – but I need the school district to do more. The lack of a clear, district-wide policy means that my son does everything he can to avoid using the restroom at all. These laws exist for a reason: to protect my son and so many others. He deserves to feel safe at school.”
According to a study by the Journal on Adolescent Health, 60% of youth who experience bathroom discrimination reported considering suicide. Additional research shows that transgender and nonbinary students have significantly higher rates of depression and suicide attempts relative to cisgender students.
The plaintiffs are asking the circuit court to declare that the school board’s actions violated §22.1-23.3 of the Virginia Code and order the school board to adopt policies consistent with the VDOE’s model policies.
Case information is available here: https://acluva.org/en/cases/hulette-et-al-v-hanover-county-school-board