A charter school in Minnesota has agreed to pay the parents of a transgender student $120,000, institute a gender-neutral school uniform policy and train its staff on how to treat transgender students as a result of a lawsuit claiming that the school violated local discrimination law.
The Pioneer Press reports that Hannah and David Edwards have settled with the Nova Classical Academy in St. Paul after the couple filed a civil lawsuit earlier this year on the basis that the school did not do enough to protect their child — a biological boy who identifies as a girl — from bullying and harassment.
The lawsuit claims that the school violated the city's human rights ordinance, which prevents discrimination on the basis of a person's gender identity.
The parents earned the right to sue in June when the St. Paul Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity ruled there was probable cause that the school violated the city's ordinance.
The terms of the out-of-court settlement agreement between the school and the family include the school paying damages of up to $120,000 and revising its policies so that they are more affirming of transgender children.
The Edwards' enrolled their child, who has remained nameless, at Nova in the 2015–'16 school year at the age of 5. However, the child was pulled from the school in February 2016 because the parents believed the school's policies were not supportive enough of their child's gender identity.
TwinCities.com reports that the human rights department's probable cause finding noted that the Edwards family notified school administrators to inform them that their child identified as "gender non-conforming" when they first enrolled the student. The parents called on the school to make changes and address issues that the parents believed were "pertinent to the safety and development of the child."
"Even though (Nova) had adopted a gender-inclusion policy, it still had lots of holes in it, and those holes were ones that were directly tied to how she was discriminated against," Hannah Edwards told the TwinCities Pioneer Press. "It was very important to us to make it clear that they had to fix that. The fact that they did is amazing."
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One of the changes the Edwards family demanded was for the school to "eliminate its gendered uniform policies and make all approved uniform items available without regard to students' gender."
Another policy initiative the settlement called for is for the school to give students access to bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, changing areas and sleeping arrangements.
The settlement also calls for the school to follow the recently published transgender "toolkit" issued by the Minnesota Department of Education, which among many things, calls for schools to address concerns over the policy raised by students by "segregating the student raising the objection provided that the action of the school officials does not result in stigmatizing the transgender and gender nonconforming student."
The statement also calls on the school to give additional support to its Gay Straight Alliance.
Gender Justice, the LGBT law group that represented the Edwards family in the case, deemed the settlement a "victory for trans and gender nonconforming children."
"Our experience shows — from start to finish — what can happen if a school caters more to the parent community than to a child's human rights," David Edwards said in a statement Monday. "It's easier and safer to have policies in place from the beginning than to adopt policies in the midst of an individual situation like Nova did, inviting publicity and controversy that led to harm to the community, to our family, and to their school."
Laura Booth, the school's attorney, told CBS Minnesota that the settlement was fair for the parties involved. "It's best practice for schools to do that training on bullying, on harassment, on the various non-discrimination laws on an annual basis," Booth said.