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Ohio school district asks court to stop feds from depriving special needs, underprivileged children

DOE making funding for disadvantaged children dependent on schools forcing students to share showers, locker rooms with opposite sex

COLUMBUS, Ohio – An Ohio school district asked a federal court in a motion filed Friday to stop the U.S. departments of Education and Justice from making good on threats to yank federal funding for special needs and underprivileged children while the district’s lawsuit against those agencies moves forward. The two departments are making the funding dependent on the district opening up overnight accommodations, locker rooms, showers, and restrooms to be shared by members of both sexes.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the Board of Education of the Highland Local School District filed suit against the two departments last month. The agencies have threatened funding to the district—situated in Ohio’s Morrow, Knox, and Delaware counties—because officials there have not allowed a student who professes a gender that conflicts with that student’s biological sex to access intimate facilities like overnight accommodations, locker rooms, showers, and restrooms designated for and used by students of the opposite sex.

“Schools have a duty to protect the dignity, privacy, and safety of all students. The feds want to punish Highland for doing just that,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell. “Federal officials are attempting to strong-arm the district into complying with a lawless demand to permit some students to access overnight accommodations, locker rooms, showers, and restrooms designated for students of the opposite sex. We are asking the court to stop the Department of Education from revoking the district’s funding or otherwise punishing the district while our lawsuit proceeds. Highland’s special needs and underprivileged children are the ones who will suffer most if the department makes good on its threats.”

The district has allowed the student to use single-use restrooms and has consented to nearly all of the requests from the student’s guardian to respect that student’s professed gender and gender expression. But the guardian nonetheless filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights because the district will not provide the child with access to intimate facilities designated for the opposite sex. Acting on the complaint, OCR has demanded that the district allow such access despite the district’s obligation to protect the dignity interests and privacy rights of all its students.

The DOE bases its threats against the school district on its inaccurate interpretation of Title IX, a 1972 federal law that prohibits schools from discriminating “on the basis of sex.” Contrary to the agency’s current directives, 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 both unlawfully redefining the word “sex” in Title IX, something that only Congress can alter, and are unlawfully forcing their directives on public schools across the nation. No federal law requires schools to allow boys into girls’ locker rooms or girls into boys’ locker rooms, and numerous courts have rejected the agencies’ interpretation of Title IX.

As the ADF brief in support of a motion for preliminary injunction states, “Highland faces an impossible choice: capitulate to [DOE’s and DOJ’s] demands and sacrifice the dignity and privacy rights of its students; or protect those rights and watch Defendants strip away more than a million dollars each year in federal funding devoted to special-education programs, lunches for underprivileged children, and educational advancement. Faced with imminent and irreparable injury no matter what it does, Highland asks this Court to preliminarily enjoin Defendants from enforcing their unlawful executive-branch attempt to rewrite federal law and, in so doing, ensure that Highland will not need to cut programs that serve underprivileged children and students struggling to learn.”

Andrew J. Burton is also serving as counsel for the school district in the lawsuit, Board of Education of the Highland Local School District v. United States Department of Education, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division. ADF attorneys have filed two other lawsuits, one in Illinois and one in North Carolina, against the DOE and DOJ over their attempt to rewrite Title IX.

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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Jim Campbell
Jim Campbell
Chief Legal Counsel
Jim Campbell serves as chief legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he leads the U.S. Legal Advocacy team.