The Fourth Circuit court of appeals recently ruled in G.G. v. Gloucester Cty. School Bd., that courts must give deference to the U.S. Department of Education’s recent guidance that public schools must treat a transgender student in conformity with the student’s gender identity.  

The case involved a transgender male student in Virginia named Gavin Grimm, whose birth-assigned sex was female, but who identifies as male. In 2014, Gavin’s school district adopted a policy that required students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that corresponded to their “biological genders.” The policy provided students with “gender identity issues” with an “alternative appropriate private facility.”

In June 2015, Gavin asked the federal district court to order the district to allow him to use the boys’ restroom. He also filed a complaint against the district arguing that the board discriminated against him in violation of Title IX, which protects against discrimination on the basis of sex.

In September 2015, the district court issued a written order denying Gavin’s request and dismissing his Title IX claim. In reaching its decision, the court observed that the Title IX regulations specifically allow schools to provide separate bathrooms “on the basis of sex.” The district court concluded that Gavin’s sex was female and that requiring him to use the female restroom facilities did not discriminate against him on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX. Gavin appealed.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit gave deference to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Right’s (OCR) January 7, 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, which states the following: “When a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex…a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.” The court of appeals found that the district court incorrectly denied Gavin’s request and ordered the case back to the district court so it could consider Gavin’s request under the proper standard. The court also ordered the lower court to consider some evidence presented by Gavin that the lower court had excluded.

OSBA will be sharing more information on the issue of accommodating transgender students at the Board Leadership Institute on Saturday, April 30. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please contact the division of legal services.

Posted by Sara Clark on 4/21/2016