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ACLU of Virginia sues Hanover school board on behalf of trans student

A panorama of the School Board members
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
From left to right: Kate Brown, Clerk of the School Board, Michael Gill, Superintendent of Schools, School board members Robert Hundley, Ola Hawkins, Chairman Bob May, Vice Chair Steven Ikenberry, Greg Coleman, John E. Redd, and Whitney Welsh during a Hanover County Public School Board meeting on Tuesday, July 11, 2023 at the Hanover County Public Schools in Ashland, Virginia.

It also names Chair Robert May and Superintendent Michael Gill as defendants.

The ACLU of Virginia is suing the Hanover County School Board and two top division officials on behalf of a transgender student and her family, who say she faced gender discrimination at school.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in the Eastern District Court of Virginia.

The ACLU of Virginia argues the student’s rights were violated under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance.

Wednesday's filing names the school board, Chair Robert May and Superintendent Michael Gill; ACLUVA alleges that the student — identified as Janie Doe — earned a spot on the girls' tennis team at her middle school in August 2023.

Dr. Gill during a meeting
Shaban Athuman/Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Dr. Michael Gill, Superintendent of Schools, listens during a Hanover County Public School Board meeting on Tuesday, May 9, 2023 at Hanover County Public Schools in Ashland, Virginia.

A month later, the board voted unanimously to prohibit her from joining the team. In November, Hanover's school board changed its extracurricular activities policy to require that students participate in single-sex activities based on the sex they were assigned at birth.

The ACLU argues that forcing the student to participate in boys' sports "will perpetuate discrimination against her and exacerbate the psychological harm she has already suffered as a result of this stigmatization."

Speaking to VPM News earlier this week, Wyatt Rolla — the ACLU of Virginia's senior transgender rights attorney — said that school boards and the Virginia Department of Education have an obligation "to create a safe and inclusive environment for all of their students, and that includes trans and nonbinary students."

They also referred to the VDOE's trans student model policies, which were implemented in 2023, as "a coordinated national effort to erase trans and nonbinary students from the classroom."

School Board Chairman May holds a gavel
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
School Board Chairman Bob May receives his gavel after being elected chairperson during a Hanover County Public School Board meeting on Tuesday, July 11, 2023 at the Hanover County Public Schools in Ashland, Virginia.

President Joe Biden’s administration updated Title IX rules in April to include protection from “discrimination based on sex stereotypes, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.” Later that month, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares joined a six-state coalition in suing the federal Department of Education to prevent those changes from taking effect.

“Now, in the guise of confronting ‘gender identity discrimination,’ DOE has finalized a rule essentially abolishing sex-based distinctions in educational activities and programs and forcing Virginia to accept radical gender ideology in its schools,” Miyares said in an April press release.

Last month, a federal judge in Kentucky agreed to temporarily block the administration's new rules, but only in those six states: Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia.

"I think it's really important when we talk about these issues, to remember that we're talking about kids who just want the opportunity to fully participate in the classroom and all the activities in their school," Rolla said, "like all the rest of their peers."

Editor’s note: VPM News and Staff Reporter Ben Paviour filed suit in January 2023 in Richmond City Circuit Court against the Virginia Department of Education for public release of the transgender student model policies in draft form. Both were represented by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Read more about the case.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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