Despite Texas injunction, WNY schools advised to honor transgender rights
While a nationwide injunction imposed Monday blocks the Obama Administration's directive regarding transgenders and school bathroom rights, Western New York school districts are being advised to continue considering the rights of transgender students because a New York State law protecting them remains in effect.
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit filed by Texas and other states. It halts a White House policy set earlier this year that allows transgender students in public schools the freedom to choose a restroom based on the individual's personal gender identity.
While the Obama policy is on hold as the Texas case continues, school districts in Western New York are being advised to continue considering transgender rights, including their right to gender identity, in their own school policies.
Jane Burzynski, who directs the Erie County Association of School Boards, read the following statement to WBFO: "We understand that a federal judge in Texas found that a Texas school district does not have to follow the U.S. Department of Education guidance for transgender student accommodations. However, New York State school districts must comply with the state law that prohibits discrimination or harassment against transgender students, and that is the Dignity for All Students Act."
Attorney Andrew Freedman, a partner at Hodgson Russ LLP in Buffalo, shared the opinion that schools must still obey state law, despite Monday's developments in Texas. DASA has been in effect since July 2012. While it remains the law of New York State, could that be challenged?
"Legislators can always revisit state statutes. However, I know that the governor, who introduced this bill into law, has been very firm that transgender students, students with different sexual orientations, just a whole host of other students who are different than others, should be protected from discrimination and harassment under law. I don't see that changing here in New York," Freedman said.
The Buffalo Public School District is expected to take up the issue when the board meets this week.
The district issued the following written statement: "At Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting, we will hear from the public and be briefed on the implications of today’s ruling that may affect policy going forward. The draft Gender Identity Policy will also be on the agenda at the September Executive Affairs Committee meeting of the Board. At that time the Board will have a deeper discussion of the policy and related issues."
Although Western New York schools are being advised to stay the course and comply with state law, advocates for transgender students are nonetheless disappointed by Monday's injunction.
"Obviously it affects so many transgender youth and transgender people across our country," said Patricia Jones, who chairs the board of the Pride Center of Western New York. "They're struggling on a daily basis for acceptance and just to attain a livelihood."
Advocates like Jones anticipate the issue of transgender bathroom rights will ultimately end up before the Supreme Court. Freedman stated that the high court is already considering whether to take on a case stemming from Virginia.