‘He deserves to feel safe at school’: Families of transgender students join ACLU in lawsuit against Hanover County Schools

Hanover County

(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Hanover County School Board on the behalf of five transgender Hanover County students and their families.

The lawsuit comes after the school board’s Nov. 9 decision to reject the Virginia state-mandated nondiscrimination policy on transgender students.

Kelly Merrill is the parent of a transgender student and she is joining with the ACLU on behalf of her son who attends a Hanover middle school. She said her 13-year-old son, Gavin, just wants to be treated the same as every other student.

“My 13-year-old son only wants to use the boys’ bathroom like the other boys,” Merrill said.

Merrill claims that due to the board’s decision to not set a clear, district-wide policy on transgender student accessibility in schools, her son avoids using the restroom out of fear of potential bullying.

“I’ve done everything I can to protect him from discrimination and bullying – including multiple emails to school administrators and even filing a Title IX complaint with the county – but I need the school district to do more,” she said.

8News asked the chair of the Hanover County School Board for any information they would be willing to give on the case, she responded in an email that they have no comments for pending litigation.

In March 2020, the General Assembly passed a law that requires all Virginia school boards to adopt consistent policies that ensure appropriate access to bathrooms and facilities, as well as other protections, in line with a student’s gender identity.

The mandate required all school boards to adopt policies by the 2021-2022 school year. Hanover County School Board put off their policy decision and ultimately rejected the idea of a policy altogether on Nov. 9.

“The Hanover County School Board is denying transgender students a safe learning environment, even after understanding the risks it poses to the health and well-being of students, not to mention the legal liability that comes with breaking the law,” said Eden Heilman, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia.

Heilman said Hanover County School Board’s veto of any potential policy left no room for ambiguity and that the board knew their actions were discriminatory and outside of the law, but chose to do it anyway.

“These students are compelled to attend school in a school system that refuses to protect them,” Heilman said. “Each weekday morning, our plaintiffs say goodbye to their kids while fearing for their safety. No parent should be forced into that position.” 

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