Appeal of policy ruling likely
Court sides with school district on use of bathrooms by transgender students
Legal advocacy groups who filed a lawsuit challenging the Boyertown Area School District’s policy on the use of bathrooms by transgender students are considering an appeal of a recent court ruling.
A federal appeals court sided with the school district May 24 over the objections of six students who challenged the district’s policy.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia essentially agreed with a lower court ruling affirming the school district’s existing policy of allowing transgender students to use any bathroom or locker room they wish.
Six students sued the school district claiming their right to privacy was being violated by allowing transgender students to use the same facilities.
The lawsuit was filed by two legal advocacy groups — the Independence Law Center and the Alliance Defending Freedom — on behalf of the Boyertown Area
High School students, including Alexis Lightcap, who is a senior this year.
Lightcap has become the public face of the lawsuit against the district, appearing in a 6-minute YouTube video where she discusses an encounter with a male student in the a women’s bathroom at the high school. The video was produced by the Alliance Defending Freedom and is featured prominently on the group’s website.
“Today’s ruling was very disappointing, and made me feel — again — like my voice was not heard,” Lightcap said after the appeals court issued its ruling. “Every student’s privacy should be protected.”
The advocacy groups are considering an appeal.
“No student should be forced into an intimate setting — like a locker room or shower — with someone of the opposite sex,” said Randall Wenger, chief counsel for the Independence Law Center. “The Boyertown District could have crafted policies that respect the privacy concerns of all students and are also sensitive to the needs of individual students. Instead, the district failed to fulfill its responsibility and harmed students rightfully concerned about their bodily privacy. The district must correct its policy — not only for our clients, but for all students within the Boyertown Area School District.”
The ruling was hailed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the The Anti-Defamation League — two groups that filed amicus (friend-of-the court) briefs on behalf of the school district — as a victory for the transgender community.
“The decision by the appeals court in this case reaffirms the legal rights and dignity of transgender students in schools,” said AntiDefamation League Regional Director Nancy K. Baron-Baer. “It marks a significant victory, not just for the students at Boyertown, but for all students who seek safe and inclusive learning environments.”
Another attorney representing the six students said the issue is far from settled.
“The Supreme Court has already spoken: The real differences between men and women mean that privacy must be protected where it really counts, and that certainly includes high school locker rooms and restrooms,” said Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom. “This decision is out of step with longstanding legal protection for privacy. We will continue advocating for these young students.”
The school district issued the following statement May 24:
The Boyertown Area School District (BASD), which deeply respects and is sensitive to the privacy rights of all students, is gratified with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling today that unquestionably supports the District’s actions regarding matters of bathroom/locker room facility access and accommodation. It is the hope of the BASD Board and Administration that this decision, which affirmed the lower court’s ruling, will be viewed as validation of the thoughtful and compassionate actions that have been taken to ensure a welcoming, quality educational environment for all of our students. While we have always recognized the right of the defendants to file their challenge, today we acknowledge and applaud all those that have supported our efforts, including the work of our legal team, and look forward to the day when this case can be marked “closed.”
Alexis Lightcap is a plaintiff in the student privacy lawsuit against the Boyertown Area School District.