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Families sue feds, Minnesota school district for violating student privacy

ADF represents students, parents challenging opening of locker rooms, showers to opposite sex based on federal agency falsehoods, threats

MINNEAPOLIS – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a group of students and parents filed suit Wednesday against the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Justice, and Minnesota’s Virginia Public Schools for disregarding student privacy and safety. The school district is located just over 60 miles north of Duluth.

The district opened its schools’ locker rooms, showers, and restrooms to the opposite sex after the U.S. departments of Education and Justice threatened removing federal education funding through legally baseless directives it issued to public schools in May. Concerned students and parents then formed the group Privacy Matters to challenge the guidelines and the school district’s policy. Young female students, initially unaware that the district was allowing biologically male students to use the girls’ locker room, were shocked and alarmed when a male student began using the locker room and have now have no assurance that they may use girls-only facilities without a male entering the once-private locker rooms and restrooms.

“School policies should promote the rights and safety of every student, but that’s not what Virginia Public Schools is doing—and it’s certainly not what the departments of Education and Justice are doing,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb. “No child should be forced into an intimate setting, like a locker room, with someone of the opposite sex. Telling girls that their privacy and modesty don’t merit a private and secure changing area is an attack on women. The school district should rescind its privacy-violating policies, and the court should order the DOE and DOJ to stop bullying school districts with falsehoods about what federal law requires.”

“Federal bureaucrats cannot simply write letters to redefine the meaning of a federal law to serve their own political ends,” added ADF Legal Counsel Doug Wardlow. “The Department of Education went beyond what it is legally and constitutionally allowed to do, and the DOJ is out of bounds in enforcing the DOE’s false interpretation of the law. In fact, several federal courts have already rejected the DOE’s interpretation of Title IX.”

The DOE and DOJ base their threats against school districts on the agencies’ inaccurate interpretation of Title IX, a 1972 federal law intended to protect women from invidious discrimination and that flatly prohibits schools from discriminating “on the basis of sex.” Contrary to what the DOE and DOJ are saying, Title IX’s existing regulations specifically state that a school receiving federal funds can “provide separate toilet, locker room, and shower facilities on the basis of sex” without putting that funding at risk.

The ADF lawsuit explains that the DOE and DOJ are unlawfully redefining the terms of Title IX, something that only Congress can alter, and are illegitimately forcing their political will on all public schools across the nation. As the lawsuit points out, no federal law requires schools to allow boys into girls’ locker rooms or girls into boys’ locker rooms, and other courts have rejected the agencies’ interpretation to the contrary. The lawsuit also explains that the DOE did not comply with key provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act when it adopted its rules.

The complaint explains some of the real concerns of students and parents, such as when a biologically male student who identifies as a female—and who is allowed to enter the girls’ locker room under the district’s policy—went on to dance in the locker room “in a sexually explicit manner—‘twerking,’ ‘grinding’ and dancing like he was on a ‘stripper pole’ to songs with explicit lyrics, including ‘Milkshake’ by Kelis. On another occasion, a female student saw the male student lift his dress to reveal his underwear while ‘grinding’ to the music.”

ADF-allied attorney Renee Carlson is serving as local counsel in the case, Privacy Matters v. United States Department of Education, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. The lawsuit asks the court to halt the school district’s policy that opens up showers and changing areas to the opposite sex and invalidate the DOE’s rule that illegitimately redefines “sex” in Title IX. ADF is litigating similar lawsuits in Illinois and Ohio.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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