Oregon Parents Sue School District Over Transgender Bathrooms, Claiming Civil Rights Violations

Dallas High School, Dallas, Oregon (By Tedder, Own work, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

A group of parents and citizens in the small town of Dallas, Oregon, in conjunction with both a local and statewide parental rights groups, has filed a lawsuit against a Dallas School District, among others, over a rule mandating that students may use school restrooms, locker rooms, and showers based on their self-identified gender identity.

Defendants included in the complaint are Dallas School District No. 2, the Oregon Department of Education, and Oregon Governor Kate Brown, in her capacity as superintendent of Public Schools. Also named in their official capacities are Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, along with their respective agencies.

Dallas residents have organized locally under the designation Parents for Privacy and have joined with the influential state nonprofit Parents Rights in Education as plaintiffs. The plaintiffs say they are not unsympathetic to accommodating transgender students, but believe that the privacy, dignity and safety of everyone must be respected in making any accommodations.

The action, like many similar complaints around the country, is in response to changes made to the Title IX definition of what constitutes a personโ€™s โ€œsexโ€ made during President Barack Obamaโ€™s administration.  The original definition, codified in the 1972 amendment aimed at protecting the rights of women and girls in federally-funded education was clear: sexual differences are binary, i.e. a person is biologically either male or female. The legislative history, based on testimony before Congress at the time Title IX was adopted, overwhelmingly confirmed that intent.

The United States Department of Education, then under the direction of John B. King Jr., unilaterally changed the definition of gender to include and protect an individualโ€™s nonbinary choice, meaning that a person must be afforded rights based on whichever sex he or she decides to identify as. The United States Department of Education, backed up by the United States Department of Justice under Loretta Lynch, threatened to withhold federal Title IX funds to any entity that did not follow the new federal guidelines.

In the comprehensive 65-page complaint,  Oregon counsel Herb Grey and  Ryan Adams challenge these unauthorized changes made to Title IX, and argue that in doing so the federal agencies were guilty of unlawful and unconstitutional federal overreach in at least two ways:

  1. They did not engage in formal rulemaking under which government agencies give notice of and receive comments about proposed new regulations, and
  2. They unilaterally changed the long-standing interpretation of โ€œsexโ€ under Title IX without any congressional or judicial authority.

Turning from the national consequences of the changes to the situation in Dallas, the complaint details how, under the districtโ€™s โ€œStudent Safety Plan,โ€ a simple choice by a student to identify as one sex or another allows that student to use the restrooms, locker rooms, and shower areas with members of the opposite sex. Precipitating the suit is โ€œStudent A,โ€ a biological female who identifies as male and has opted since the guidelines were implemented locally to use the restrooms and shower facilities with her biologically male counterparts.