Dec 7 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday preserved an Oregon public school district’s policy of accommodating transgender students, rejecting an appeal challenging a policy that let students use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity.
The justices left in place a lower court ruling that threw out a lawsuit against Dallas School District No. 2 in rural western Oregon spearheaded by parents of a small group of students. The plaintiffs had argued that the policy violated students’ rights to privacy and religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution as well as a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.
The use of gender-specific facilities such as bathrooms by transgender people in schools and beyond continues to be litigated around the United States. The Supreme Court scrapped plans to hear a major case from Virginia involving bathroom access in public schools in 2017.
The justices in a landmark decision in June ruled that federal law prohibits workplace discrimination against gay and transgender employees. But that ruling, written by conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, made clear it was not addressing “bathrooms, locker rooms or anything else of the kind.”
The Oregon lawsuit was brought in 2017 following a school district policy put in place at Dallas High School to accommodate transgender students. The school adopted the policy after a transgender student who was assigned as female at birth but now identifies as male asked to use the boys’ bathroom and locker room facilities in 2015. The student used these facilities for three years until graduation.
The plaintiffs argued that allowing students to use facilities that correspond to their gender identity – a policy also adopted by some other school districts around the country – risked violating students’ privacy and caused other students embarrassment or fear of sharing intimate spaces with a student of the opposite sex.
The boys’ facilities at the school had private toilet and shower stalls, and the school also gave students the option to use other single-occupancy facilities if they had concerns, according to court papers. The school district said that, despite the concerns, the transgender student and other boys “never actually did see each other undressing.”
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out the lawsuit in February. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, saying its guidance was needed to “strike the proper balance between the rights of (transgender) students and the rest of the school community.”
President Donald Trump’s administration has taken steps to limit the rights of transgender Americans including rescinding guidance previously issued by the administration of President Barack Obama regarding bathroom access for transgender students.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)