Evansville student takes EVSC to Federal Court

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An Evansville student takes his school corporation to Federal Court on Friday. He’s fighting to use the boy’s bathroom, but teachers say he’s a girl.

The case was heard in front of Judge William Lawrence in U.S. District Court.

The 17-year-old transgender student, identified by his initials, J. A. W. was sitting on one side of the courtroom Friday, and the leadership of the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation was on the other.

The heart of the issue lies in male or female and where this student is allowed to go.

“Indiana law says we enroll children based on birth certificates,” says EVSC attorney Pat Shoulders. “Sex is assigned at birth by the health authorities and the school corporation doesn’t want to be put in a position of second-guessing that or making a decision different than those documents provided.”

The student says he was born a female, and that’s on his birth records, but he’s openly identified as a male since he was 12.

J. A. W. alleges the school system won’t let him use the men’s room unless paperwork reflects he’s male. If that happens, Superintendent Dr. David Smith testified the school would allow him to use the men’s room.

Shoulders agreed. “We will honor that legal document,” he says.

The problem for the student is it isn’t as simple as changing a piece of paper. He was born in Florida, which requires surgery and new anatomy to get a birth certificate changed.

Dr. Smith deferred questions to Shoulders. Smith said it’s EVSC policy not to comment on open litigation.

The student’s attorney, Ken Faulk is asking for an injunction, which would allow J. A. W. to use the men’s room and not a gender neutral one.

“EVSC needs to get with the program and do what many school districts are doing,” says Faulk. “Not being able to use [the men’s room] is causing him harm and distress.”

Shoulders says school leaders were caught off guard when the lawsuit was filed in February. “The first time the school corporation was given any documentation other than a student’s request was through the discovery process in the lawsuit itself.”

Faulk says, regardless of when the school found out, nothing has been done. “They know about it now and their response was to continue to say he cannot use bathrooms associated with his gender identity.”

The judge plans to make a ruling before the start of school on August 8.

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(This story was originally published July 20, 2018)

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