COLUMBUS, Ohio – A federal judge rejected a school district's challenge to President Barack Obama's rule on transgender bathrooms on Monday, ordering a biologically male student who identifies as female be treated "like the girl she is."
Judge Algenon Marbley said the Highland Local Schools in Morrow County had failed to provide a persuasive argument that giving the student access to the girls' restroom would jeopardize other students' privacy or safety. He further ordered that Highland use a female name and pronouns in referring to the 11-year-old.
"(S)chool districts that have encountered these very issues have been able to integrate transgender students fully into the academic and social community without disruption, and certainly without the doomsday scenarios Highland predicts, such as sexual predators entering an elementary-school restroom," he wrote.
There's "certainly no evidence" the student, referred to in court documents as Jane Doe, is likely to violate other students' privacy or put their safety at risk when using the girls' restroom, he wrote.
Joseph Weissman, an attorney for the student, says in a statement that the court has taken an important step in protecting the student's rights.
"Every student has a right to be free from discrimination and harassment while at school, and we are pleased the Court has taken this important step in protecting Jane Doe's rights," Weissman said.
The school district's legal team said in a statement that it is appealing the judge's ruling.
"Schools have a duty to protect the privacy, safety, and dignity of all students, but the judge's order today doesn't allow the Highland Local School District to do that," said Doug Wardlow, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom.
He said allowing boys in girls' restrooms disregards the privacy and rights of all the girls who are concerned. Wardlow said the district crafted a sound policy that respects the privacy concerns of all children and the diverse needs of individual children.
A message seeking comment from the U.S. Department of Justice wasn't immediately returned Monday.
The Highland schools sought to block enforcement of a federal directive that public schools let students use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities, noting that they had provided alternative bathroom facilities for the student in the office. The office restroom is used by school personnel and other adults, and the child's parents said using it was taking "a toll on her mental health."
The federal guidance was the Democratic administration's interpretation of how Title IX, a law against sex discrimination, should apply to transgender students. A federal district court in Texas has issued a sweeping preliminary injunction against enforcement of the regulations in a lawsuit filed by Texas and at least 11 other states.
However, Marbley said because Ohio wasn't a party to that lawsuit and because Highland's lawsuit began before its decision the Texas court's action doesn't apply in this case.
Highland stood to lose $1 million in education funds annually for violating the rule.