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Ohio school district sues feds for demanding that students have access to opposite-sex locker rooms

ADF attorneys represent Board of Education of Highland Local School District

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing an Ohio school district filed suit Friday against the U.S. departments of Education and Justice for making federal educational funding dependent on students sharing overnight accommodations, locker rooms, showers, and restrooms with the opposite sex.

The Department of Education has threatened the federal funding of Highland Local School 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. This is precisely what Highland Local School District has done,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell. “Despite that, the Department of Education is attempting to strong-arm Highland into complying with a lawless demand to open its single-sex overnight accommodations, locker rooms, showers, and restrooms to students of the opposite sex. The DOE is trying to redefine a federal law that only Congress can change.”

The district has allowed the student to use single-use restrooms and has acceded to nearly all of the requests from the student’s guardian to respect that student’s professed gender. 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.

“As a result, Highland faces an impossible choice: capitulate to Defendants’ demands and sacrifice the dignity and privacy rights of their 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,” the ADF complaint states. “The Court should resolve this dilemma, declare that Defendants’ new Title IX rule is an unlawful executive-branch attempt to rewrite federal law, enjoin Defendants from enforcing that rule, and protect Highland from having to cut programs that serve underprivileged children and students struggling to learn.”

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 terms of Title IX, something that only Congress can alter, and are illegitimately forcing their political will on all 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.

Andrew J. Burton is serving as additional 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 its 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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