Colman Domingo
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SCOTUS Lets Oregon School's Trans-Inclusive Policy Stay in Place

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The Supreme Court has declined to hear a case from Oregon challenging a school district’s transgender-inclusive policy for restrooms and locker rooms.

The decision means a federal appeals court’s decision upholding the policy will stand.

The court Monday issued its latest list of cases it has decided to take or decline. It declined the case, Parents for Privacy v. Barr, without comment; the court very seldom includes comments on these orders. The refusal to hear the case, however, means that it “failed to gain support from at least four justices,” The Hill reports. The court last year declined to hear a similar case out of Pennsylvania, leaving another trans-inclusive policy in place.

Parents of current or former students in the Dallas, Ore., school district, along with groups called Parents for Privacy and Parents Rights in Education, sued the district in 2017 after a transgender boy was allowed to use the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms at Dallas High School. The district established a policy that would let all students use the facilities designated for the gender with which they identify.

Parents objecting to the policy said it interfered with their rights to manage their children’s education, as they “do not want their minor children to endure the risk of being exposed to the opposite sex ... nor do they want their minor children to attend to their personal, private bodily needs in the presence of members of the opposite sex,” as stated in a court filing.

They claimed it violated that right and the right to privacy, both guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, their right to freedom of religion under the First Amendment, the Civil Rights Act’s ban on sex discrimination and sexual harassment (Title IX), and several state laws. A federal district court in Oregon found no such violations and dismissed the suit, as did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, so the parents appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Ninth Circuit, ruling in 2018, wrote that there was no “fundamental privacy right to avoid all risk of intimate exposure to or by a transgender person who was assigned the opposite biological sex at birth” and that “the use of facilities for their intended purpose, without more, does not constitute an act of harassment simply because a person is transgender.”

The Dallas School District was named as a defendant, along with U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who heads the Department of Justice, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and their respective departments. They were named even though the departments had withdrawn guidelines advising schools to let trans students use facilities comporting with their gender identity; the guidelines had been issued by the departments when Barack Obama was president but rescinded under Donald Trump. The parents argued that the guidelines caused the district to adopt the trans-inclusive policy in the first place and still had the force of law despite the withdrawal, so they sought to assure that the departments would not try to enforce the guidelines in the future.

Basic Rights Oregon, an LGBTQ+ rights group, intervened in the case on the side of upholding the policy; it was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU applauded the court’s decision not to hear the case.

“The Supreme Court has once again said that transgender youth are not a threat to other students,” Chase Strangio, deputy director for trans justice with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a press release. “As we look towards state legislative sessions that will likely continue the attacks on trans youth, the decision not to take this case is an important and powerful message to trans and nonbinary youth that they deserve to share space with and enjoy the benefits of school alongside their nontransgender peers. We will continue to fight in courts, in legislatures, and in our families and communities to ensure that all trans people feel safe and belong.”

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