People For the American Way Foundation

Schools Must Protect Students from Discrimination

People For in Action
Schools Must Protect Students from Discrimination

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is considering the case of Doe v. Boyertown Area School District. Boyertown allows students to use school facilities based on their gender identity, but a student backed by the right-wing Alliance Defending Freedom has challenged that policy. As People For the American Way Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League, and nine other organizations contend in their friend-of-the-court brief, what’s at stake is far more than bathrooms and locker rooms. This case is about students’ ability to safely attend school without facing routine demoralization, bias, discrimination, or harassment. We want to make one thing clear: schools are obligated to protect all students, including transgender students, from discrimination. Our introduction follows below. Click here to download a PDF copy of the full brief.

In 2016, the Boyertown Area School District (“Boyertown”) established a policy that respects and acknowledges transgender students by permitting them to access bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity (the “Policy”). Boyertown’s Policy is not novel. Rather, it reflects a core American constitutional principle: the prevention of discrimination, which the Supreme Court has acknowledged is particularly damaging in an educational environment. Furthermore, Boyertown’s Policy ensures the School District’s compliance with anti-discrimination protections under federal law.

The District Court, in a detailed opinion, rejected Plaintiffs’ challenge to that Policy and denied their request for preliminary injunctive relief. Importantly, the District Court held that, even assuming Plaintiffs’ challenge was based on a legitimate privacy interest, Boyertown’s Policy was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest—specifically, a compelling interest not to discriminate against transgender students. Those reasons alone warrant this Court affirming the District Court.

In addition, the District Court’s ruling is supported by social science and empirical research that show policies like Boyertown’s are in the best interests of all students and promote safe, inclusive, and successful school environments. Transgender students face a disproportionate amount of discrimination, bias, and harassment. Policies like Boyertown’s help prevent such discrimination and harassment by fostering a unified and cohesive school environment. Such policies benefit not only transgender students but also the student community as a whole.

At bottom, this Court’s decision affects more than bathroom and locker room accessibility. It affects students’ ability to safely attend school and engage in day-to-day activities without facing routine demoralization, bias, discrimination, or harassment. It affects the school’s obligation to protect transgender students from discrimination. And, more broadly, it affects the standards imposed on an upcoming generation of children and the trajectory of expectations on a national and global level. Policies like Boyertown’s should be celebrated, not condemned. For those reasons, and the reasons discussed below, amici curiae respectfully request that the District Court be affirmed.

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