Transgender student’s bathroom ban could lead to lawsuit against Horry schools

Horry Schools official: We acted in a proper manner

Joe DeFeo, Horry County Board of Education chairman, said the district acted appropriately regarding transgender students and Title IX compliance.
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Joe DeFeo, Horry County Board of Education chairman, said the district acted appropriately regarding transgender students and Title IX compliance.

Horry County Schools may be facing legal action after a transgender student was banned from using the boys’ bathroom at Socastee High School, according to a letter from the Transgender Law Center.

The legal center – which works to change laws and policies “so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression” – sent an email to Horry County Superintendent Rick Maxey last Thursday threatening legal action if a transgender high schooler was not allowed to use the bathroom consistent with his gender identity. The student, identified as “R,” was banned from the boys’ room in October 2015, according to the letter from the center’s staff attorney Alison Pennington.

In fact, the District’s policy that denies transgender students like [redacted] access to facilities consistent with their gender identity is unlawful, discriminatory, and harmful, as the recent decision from the Fourth Circuit makes clear.

Alison Pennington, staff attorney of the Transgender Law Center

“R” was suspended from Socastee High in January 2016 after a teacher followed him out of a pep rally and “caught” him using the boys’ bathroom, the letter said. The student then transferred to an online program to “avoid the stigmatizing impact of having to use a bathroom that does not match who he is,” the letter said.

Horry County Schools officials could not comment on the specific allegations, but said the district values the privacy of all its students and has worked to accommodate the “individual needs of transgender students in compliance with the law.”

“We will continue our efforts to ensure a welcoming school environment for all students,” according to a statement from Rick Maxey, Horry County Schools superintendent.

The school district has been handling this transgender issue for quite some time, and I believe we have handled it appropriately.

Joe DeFeo, Horry County board of education chairman

The Transgender Law Center alleges that “R” had been using the boys’ bathrooms throughout middle and high school until senior year, and also bunked with other boys during an overnight school trip without incident. In October, “R” was told he had to start using either the girl’s bathroom or the restroom in the nurse’s office, which is on the first floor, the letter said.

The student had a panic attack during that meeting and an administrator told him that his panic attack was “inappropriate,” the letter states.

“R” started using the nurse’s bathroom but found it “logistically onerous,” since it was on a separate floor than all of his classes. He avoided using the restroom altogether while at school, the letter said.

As this letter has made clear, the situation is pressing both as a matter of [redacted]’s civil rights and his physical health.

Alison Pennington, staff attorney of the Transgender Law Center

The district cannot talk about the specific allegations, but said it complies with Title IX regulations regarding transgender students. The Board of Education met in executive session Monday for over an hour to receive legal advice concerning Title IX, though board members could not discuss the specifics.

Joe DeFeo, board chairman, said that the district has handled the issue appropriately and in line with the recent ruling from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed that transgender students have the right to use facilities that match their gender identity.

DeFeo said the district has to keep the privacy and feelings of non-transgendered students in mind when making any decisions, which is why certain accommodations were made for special cases.

“We have to look out for everybody, and we’ll continue to do that in the proper manner,” he said.

The Transgender Law Center is asking the district to give transgender students access to facilities consistent with their gender identity, changes attendance lists to accurately reflect the students’ gender and ensures that all administrators and school staff are trained on issues of gender identity. If the center does not receive confirmation of those actions by Wednesday, “we will evaluate all legal options, including filing a lawsuit in federal court,” the letter said.

As Katherine Boone, 18, recovered from the surgery that changed her into a female, she and her family talked about what they all went through.

Claire Byun: 843-626-0381, @Claire_TSN

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