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State wants to join transgender student's lawsuit against Anoka schools

The MN Department of Human Rights is asking the Anoka County District Court to intervene in the teen's lawsuit, which alleges administrators at Coon Rapids High School violated the student's constitutional rights by not allowing him to use the boys' locker room as a member of the swim team.
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COON RAPIDS, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Human Rights wants to join a lawsuit accusing the Anoka-Hennepin School District of discriminating against a transgender student.

The department is asking the Anoka County District Court to intervene in the teen's lawsuit, which alleges administrators at Coon Rapids High School violated the student's constitutional rights by not allowing him to use the boys' locker room as a member of the swim team.

Minnesota's American Civil Liberties Union's chapter says the school board singled out the student and forced him to use a separate changing room. The student no longer attends school in the district.

READ: Anoka-Hennepin schools sued by ACLU over LBGT student rights

The department, in part, is asking a judge to order the school district to train staff and school board members and impose a civil penalty paid to the state and monetary damages paid to the family.

“What happened to my son was not OK,” said N.H.’s mother in a media release sent out by the Department of Human Rights. “My interest has always been in trying to make things better for all Minnesota students. The Department of Human Rights and the Attorney General’s involvement sends a clear message to them that they are valued and deserve respect.” 

The student, named in documents as N.H., joined the boys’ swim team at Coon Rapids High School for the 2015-2016 school year and used the boys’ locker room without issue. However, during the summer of 2016, the district built an “enhanced privacy” boys’ locker room at the high school, which was entirely separate and segregated from the main boys’ locker room. In 2017, the district and school board required N.H. to use the “enhanced privacy” boys’ locker room, contrary to anti-discrimination provisions in the Minnesota Human Rights Act and N.H.’s wishes. The lawsuit says the district even threatened to discipline N.H. if he did not use the segregated locker room.

The Anoka-Hennepin Public Schools released an extended statement on the situation, which is included below in its entirety. 

Anoka-Hennepin Schools is committed to providing a safe and respectful learning environment and to providing an education that supports all students and families, including transgender and gender nonconforming students. 

The use of restrooms and locker rooms are determined on a case-by-case basis. The goal is to ensure that all students feel safe and comfortable. Plans for accommodation for restroom and locker room use are made in consultation with school building administrators, the Title IX coordinator, and superintendent in compliance with state and federal law. This approach is consistent with guidance from the National School Boards Association and the Minnesota School Boards Association. Providing privacy for all students is an important consideration. 

The Minnesota Supreme Court held in (student's name) v. West Group “that the Minnesota Human Rights Act neither requires nor prohibits restroom designation according to self-image of gender or according to biological gender.” In permitting the student to use the boys restrooms and locker room consistent with his gender identity, the District surpassed what Minnesota law prescribes.  The court’s decision in (student's name) is consistent with the Minnesota Human Rights Act’s provisions governing discriminatory practices in places of public accommodation. Under the Act, it is an unfair discriminatory practice “to deny any person the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of a place of public accommodation because of,” among other things, “sexual orientation” or “sex.” This provision does not apply, however, “to such facilities as restrooms, locker rooms, and other similar places.” Minn. Stat. § 363A.11, subd. 1(a)(1);  § 363A.24, subd. 1.