Nease transgender student sues school board after being denied access to boys’ restroom

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A transgender student at Allen D. Nease High School is suing the St. Johns County School Board in federal court for discrimination because he said the district is prohibiting him from using the boys’ restroom.

Drew Adams, a 16-year-old and rising junior at Nease, is asking the court to force the district to change its policy requiring transgender students to use gender neutral restrooms and allow them to use the restrooms they identify with as their gender.

“I hope to show both my school district and every other school district that discrimination is not tolerated and that trans kids are normal kids,” said Adams, who has been living as a boy since 2015. “I want to share that there’s hope for change and that things are going to get better.”

Lambda Legal, a LGBT legal advocacy group, filed the federal discrimination lawsuit in the Middle District of Florida June 28 on behalf of Adams and his mother, Erica Adams Kasper. The organization’s complaint argues that the school district’s policy excluding transgender students from the restrooms that match their gender is unconstitutional because it discriminates based on sex in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act.

In a statement from the district, Superintendent Tim Forson said they disagree with the plaintiff’s interpretation of the law.

“It would be inappropriate for us to try this case in the media,” said Forson. “We will work through the legal process with our school board and its general counsel.”

The district was not available for any further comment.

According to the complaint, Adams used the boys’ restroom when he began his freshman year at Nease in 2015. Within two months, however, someone anonymously reported that he was doing so, which led to school officials instructing him to use the gender-neutral restrooms moving forward.

“When I was pulled out of class and told I could no longer use the boys’ restroom, I was shocked and demoralized,” said Adams, an International Baccalaureate program student who wants to eventually attend medical school to become a psychiatrist. “It made me feel like my school didn’t want me just because I’m transgender.”

The complaint states that Adams felt singled out from other students, as well as embarrassed and insulted to walk halfway across the school and pass several boys’ restrooms to find one of Nease’s three gender-neutral restrooms. Two of these restrooms are located in the administrative building. The other is in a building known as the “H-pod” and has been available intermittently, per the complaint.

To access these restrooms, Adams said he has to sometimes walk 15 to 20 minutes, which requires him to miss class time. As a result, he has avoided using the restroom altogether and restricted his fluid intake throughout the day.

To address the situation, Kasper noted she met with Nease officials, who told her in October 2015 that the school’s hands were tied and that it was a district issue. Upon meeting with district officials in November 2015, Kasper said they refused to change their policy. According to the complaint, the district officials expressed concerns about the reluctance of the community to accept a change to the policy, as well as potential legal action from other students’ parents, among other apprehensions.

“They made it very clear that they did not wish to accommodate Drew in this regard,” said Kasper. “For them, gender neutral bathrooms were by far the best possible outcome we could expect.”

She proceeded to contact the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education to file a complaint, which led to an investigation that lasted several months. She said that investigation came to a halt, however, due in large part to President Trump’s decision to recently rescind the Obama White House’s guidance compelling schools to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identities. As a result, Adams and Kasper felt they had no choice but to sue.

Paul Castillo, an attorney from Lamda Legal who is representing Adams and Kasper, said the next step in the process is for the school board to respond to the complaint. He noted they anticipate filing a preliminary injunction to ask the court to force the district to change its policy and accommodate for Adams while the lawsuit is taking place. Castillo said lawsuits take time, and Adams doesn’t have the luxury of time since school is starting in August.

“They availed themselves of every avenue to resolve this short of litigation,” said Castillo. “Drew is just a normal boy who wants to be treated and respected by the students and the school as the boy he is.”

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