Iron Range restroom lawsuit suspended
A federal judge has suspended a lawsuit filed against the Virginia school district and federal authorities over the district's policy allowing students to use restroom and locker room facilities that correspond with their gender identity.
The lawsuit has been suspended until the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling on a similar case. U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright granted the suspension earlier this month, at the joint request of the plaintiffs and defendants.
Although the Virginia School Board agreed to the suspension, the school district "continues to vehemently deny the allegations in the lawsuit or any wrongdoing," the district said in a statement on Thursday.
"The district remains committed to its position that its practices adhere to legal requirements and that the facts alleged in the lawsuit are sensationalized and inaccurate," the statement said.
Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious legal advocacy nonprofit organization representing the plaintiffs — a group in Virginia called Privacy Matters — did not return the News Tribune's request for comment on Thursday.
In her order suspending the case's proceedings, Wright noted that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on a lawsuit focusing on school district rules for transgender students and that case "is likely to affect any further proceedings in this case." In the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, a school board in the state of Virginia was sued after it adopted a policy that transgender students must use a single-stall unisex restroom that corresponds with the student's gender at birth. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on the case by June.
In its statement on Thursday, the school district in the city of Virginia said that it "did not see a reason to incur additional legal costs to defend a lawsuit when there was a chance the law would be clarified in the coming months."
The statement concluded, "If the plaintiffs decide to continue the lawsuit after the Supreme Court decision, the district will continue to vigorously defend its position."
Privacy Matters, which includes the families of five girls who attend Virginia High School, alleges in its lawsuit that the Virginia school district's policy violates student privacy and constitutional rights by allowing a transgender student to use the girls' restrooms and locker rooms at Virginia High School. Privacy Matters also alleges in the lawsuit that the policy violates Title IX by excluding female students from educational programs.
In addition to the Virginia school district, the lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Department of Education, Education Secretary John King, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
The lawsuit was filed in September in U.S. District Court by attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom. The lawsuit seeks to have the district's policy and the federal guidance on the issue declared unlawful and a permanent injunction issued against both. It also seeks "an award of nominal damages in the amount of one dollar, and compensatory damages" for each plaintiff, along with legal fees.
An attorney for Privacy Matters told the News Tribune in September that when the girls' parents brought their concerns to school administration, they found "an unsympathetic school and a very aggressive federal government," so they turned to the legal system.
In the lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is representing a transgender student at Virginia High School, identified by the ACLU as Jane Doe, who plays on girls' sports teams and who ACLU officials claim is "the real target" of the lawsuit.
In its statement on Thursday, the Virginia school district said that its policy allowing students to use restroom and locker room facilities that correspond with a student's gender identity came after consulting with legal counsel on state and federal law.
"The district adhered to applicable laws in determining the best practices to follow. The district strongly believes the plaintiffs' allegations misrepresent the actual conditions in the district, as well as relevant law," according to the statement. "Furthermore, the district's current practices effectively respect student privacy. The district remains committed to ensuring its schools provide an appropriate environment for students and staff to focus on learning."