South Carolina

Transgender Socastee student allowed to use boys’ bathroom after suspension

Horry County Schools has agreed to let a transgender student use the boys’ bathroom after he was suspended in January, according to a release from a legal agency who threatened to sue the district.

The Transgender Law 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.

It is both illegal and wrong to ban transgender students from using the restroom matching the gender they live as every day. The law is clear, and we expect other districts to follow their lead and fall in line – or face the legal consequences.

Kris Hayashi, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center

The letter threatened legal action if the district did not reverse course and allow “R” to use the bathroom according to his identifying gender. Horry County Schools had until Wednesday to respond to the legal center’s letter, or the center would “evaluate all legal options, including filing a lawsuit in federal court,” the letter said.

“I’m thrilled the district is changing its policy because for me this was always about all the younger transgender students who might not have the same support or ability to fight back like I did,” said “R” in an email. “We’re in school to learn, and we should be able to use the bathroom when we need to without worrying about a teacher following us or policing which bathroom we use.”

The district agreed to allow “R” to use the bathroom consistent with his gender identity, confirmed Joe DeFeo, board of education chairman. The district also agreed to remove the suspension from “R’s” record, inform faculty and staff of their responsibility to use pronouns consistent with transgender students’ gender identities, and update classroom attendance rosters to reflect a student’s preferred name.

Teal Harding, Horry County Schools spokeswoman, could not confirm the contents of the district’s response to the legal center because “individual student matters are protected by the law.” She said the district did not need to “rewrite” any policies because it already complies with Title IX regulations, which protects the rights of transgender students.

“There is no need for the development of an additional policy,” she said.

“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.

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

Joe DeFeo, Horry County Board of Education chairman

Horry County Schools officials could not comment on the specific allegations earlier this week, 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.” Harding said the district’s earlier statement still stands after the deadline.

“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 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.

Claire Byun: 843-626-0381, @Claire_TSN

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