WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to take up an important case involving a Pennsylvania school district that disregarded its students’ bodily privacy rights when it opened its high school locker rooms and restrooms to students of the opposite sex based on those students’ beliefs about their gender—and without informing students or parents of the policy change. In November of last year, Alliance Defending Freedom and Independence Law Center attorneys representing the students and their parents asked the high court to review a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit decision that found the students’ privacy didn’t merit protection.
The Boyertown Area School District secretly implemented the policy during the 2016-17 school year. Some male students learned about it only because they were undressing in their locker room and discovered that a female student was changing clothes with them. Embarrassed and confused, the students sought help from school officials, who told them they should just “tolerate it” and “make it as natural as possible.” One of those male students left the school entirely as a result.
“Students struggling with their beliefs about gender need compassionate support, but sound reasons based on common sense have always existed for schools to separate male and female teenagers in showers, restrooms, and locker rooms,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “No student’s recognized right to bodily privacy should be made contingent on what other students believe about their own gender. Because the 3rd Circuit’s decision made a mess of bodily privacy and Title IX principles, we believe the Supreme Court should have reviewed it. But we hope the court will take up a similar case in the future to bring much needed clarity to how the lower courts should handle violations of well-established student privacy rights.”
After parents learned about the policy change, school district officials told the male students that their alternative was to stop using the boys’ locker room. Another Boyertown student, Alexis Lightcap, learned of the policy when she encountered a boy in her restroom. She was shocked, afraid, and fled the restroom, but school officials refused to listen to her privacy concerns either.
The lawsuit, Doe v. Boyertown Area School District, argues that the school is violating its students’ fundamental right to bodily privacy under the U.S. Constitution and effectively denying them access to locker room and restroom facilities on the basis of sex under Title IX.
“These types of school policies have serious privacy implications. That’s why we hope the Supreme Court will eventually weigh in to protect students’ constitutional right to bodily privacy,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “All schools, including Boyertown Area School District, should be providing compassionate support for those dealing with gender dysphoria, but they should do so in ways that protect the privacy of all students.”
Independence Law Center attorneys who are serving as co-counsel for the students and parents are among more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF. Independence Law Center is a Pennsylvania-based pro-bono legal organization dedicated to advancing civil rights.