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Biology Irrelevant: Virginia transgender elementary school student rules restroom access

Hartwood Elementary School must permit a transgender student to use the restroom of the gender the student identifies with.

Photo Illustration by Hailey Tucker

By Vanessa Remmers, Free-Lance Star:

A transgender student at Hartwood Elementary School has sparked debate over which restrooms the student can use.

The Stafford County school system says it must permit a transgender student to use the restroom of the gender the student identifies with. But some residents are calling for the schools to reverse course.

In a March 12 letter responding to a parent’s inquiry, Executive Director of Human Resources and non-discrimination officer Rick Fitzgerald said that Title IX has been interpreted by federal agencies to require school systems to permit a transgender student to use the restroom of the gender the student identifies with.

Title IX is the federal law prohibiting schools that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex.

“We can’t discuss the student, but each situation is considered individually and our policies and the applicable state and federal laws are applied evenly to each of our students,” Stafford Schools spokeswoman Valerie Cottongim said. “Any request for reasonable accommodations are considered on a case-by-case and individual basis.”

Cottongim said that also would apply to students or parents who take issue with the school system’s actions regarding transgender students.

Russ Moulton, a Hartwood resident and county business owner, called on residents to urge their School Board members to change the decision.

“We need to immediately return to appropriate standards for restrooms, locker rooms and attire in our public schools,” Moulton wrote in an email to residents.

The email went on to say that students should dress based on their biology.

“If we can prohibit sexually provocative clothing or sagging pants, we can surely return to these reasonable standards of attire,” Moulton wrote. “Our classrooms shouldn’t be ‘political footballs’ or social experiments for the radical left.”

A Hartwood parent, who wished to remain anonymous, disagrees with the schools’ stance. He said he doesn’t think parents had an adequate opportunity to weigh in.

When the School Board does consider policy changes, Cottongim said, the public is notified. But this case didn’t involve a policy change, she said.

The Stafford schools’ nondiscrimination policy, which was re-adopted in December 2013, states that the board does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age, color, religion, national origin, political affiliation or disability.

In an opinion released earlier this month that reverses that of his Republican predecessor, Attorney General Mark Herring said that local school boards have the authority to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-discrimination policies.

Nondiscrimination policies in Fairfax County and Alexandria City schools both specifically mention sexual orientation.

Spotsylvania County’s nondiscrimination policy mentions both sex and gender and “any other characteristic protected by law.”

The issue has surfaced in other school divisions across the nation and led to legal action in some.

Gloucester County is facing a federal civil rights complaint after adopting a policy in December 2014 limiting bathroom and locker facilities to students’ biological genders. Under the policy, transgender students would use an alternative private facility.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the complaint on behalf of Gavin Grimm, a Gloucester High School sophomore who is biologically female but identifies as a male. Grimm had at one point been allowed to use the boys restroom, according to the ACLU’s website.

The policy discriminates against Grimm on the basis of his sex in violation of Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, an ACLU release states.

In another earlier case that also involved an elementary school student, a 6-year-old’s family filed a civil rights complaint after the transgender student was told to stop using the girls restroom, The Denver Post reported.

The Colorado Civil Rights Division sided with the student in 2013, according to The Denver Post.

That same year in a landmark case, a student born female but identifying as a male claimed that the Arcadia Unified School District in California prohibited him from accessing specific facilities designated for male students, a Virginia School Boards Association presentation said. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights took up the case.

The school system didn’t admit to unlawful conduct, but entered into a resolution agreement agreeing to create “a safe, nondiscriminatory learning environment for students who are transgender or do not conform to gender stereotypes,” the VSBA presentation said.

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