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Student sues Berks Co. school over transgender policy

Written by MARIA DANILOVA/Associated Press | Mar 21, 2017 3:46 PM
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(Washington) -- A high school student on Tuesday sued his school district, which covers parts of Berks and Montgomery counties, saying its transgender-friendly policy constitutes sexual harassment and a violation of privacy.

The action, filed Tuesday with the Eastern District of Pennsylvania federal court, comes a few weeks after the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era regulations that had instructed schools to allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms in line with their expressed gender identity as opposed to their sex assigned at birth.

In October, the plaintiff, a high-school junior identified as Joel Doe, was changing into gym clothes in the boys' locker room before the mandatory PE class when he saw a student, wearing shorts and a bra, according to the lawsuit. The second student had recently begun transitioning from female to male, said Kellie Fiedorek of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group representing the student who brought the suit.

"Joel Doe experienced immediate confusion, embarrassment, humiliation, and loss of dignity upon finding himself in this circumstance," the lawsuit says. After complaining to the school administration, Joel Doe was told that he had to "tolerate" the situation and make it as "natural" as possible.

"Our laws and customs have long recognized that we shouldn't have to undress in front of persons of the opposite sex," said ADF Legal Counsel Kellie Fiedorek. "But now some schools are forcing our children into giving up their privacy rights."

The office of Richard Faidley, superintendent of the Boyertown Area School District, which is being sued, declined immediate comment.

Eliza Byard, executive director of Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, said the situation could have easily been resolved without a lawsuit had the school made the necessary arrangements for the student who feels uneasy. Byard said the school could have let "Joel Doe" use single occupancy or staff bathrooms and locker rooms.

"The existence of a transgender person living their life appropriately at school cannot constitute sexual harassment," Byard said. "It might make another student uncomfortable and in that case, there is a common sense legal remedy of providing separate accommodations to the student who feels uncomfortable."

Byard said rescinding the Obama guidance has created uncertainty and led to discrimination against transgender children.

"The actions of our current administration have created confusion and a perceived opportunity to roll back the support currently available to trans students across the country," Byard said.

After the Obama regulations were rolled back, it is now up to the states to interpret anti-discrimination laws when deciding how students can use school facilities. Facing criticism, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with several transgender families earlier this month and vowed to protect all students.

An earlier version of this story appears below.

(Washington) -- A Pennsylvania high school student is suing his school district, saying its transgender-friendly policy constitutes sexual harassment and a violation of privacy.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday with the Eastern District of Pennsylvania federal court, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group representing the student.

In October, the plaintiff, identified as Joel Doe, was changing into gym clothes in the boys' locker room when he saw a student, wearing shorts and a bra, who had recently begun transitioning from female to male, said Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel at ADF.

The office of the superintendent of the Boyertown Area School District, which is being sued, declined immediate comment. The district covers parts of Berks and Montgomery counties. 

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