The family of an 8-year-old transgender girl is suing the child’s private school for “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” among other charges, after the school allegedly refused to use her female name and pronoun and also barred her from using the girls’ restroom and from wearing a girls’ school uniform.
“When any adult says to a child, ‘You may not live according to your gender identity,’ that is serious emotional distress,” Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer for plaintiff Nicole Brar and her parents, Priya Shah and Jaspret Brar, tells Yahoo Beauty. “There isn’t anything more heartless in the world than telling a child ‘do not follow your heart.’”
The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of California, Orange County, on Aug. 2, seeks appropriate compensatory damages yet to be determined as well as a policy change regarding gender at the Heritage Oak Private Education in Yorba Linda, where Nicole was withdrawn halfway through the most recent school year in favor of homeschooling; she will be enrolled in public school this fall and is also under the care of a therapist, says Rosenbaum.
“Nikki,” as Nicole is called, is a “courageous” child, notes the lawsuit, “who told her family what she has long known to be true: that although she was assigned to the male gender at birth, her true gender identity is that of a girl. Her loving parents and sister supported her in this affirmation of her core identity and sense of self; her older sister’s first question was: What pronoun do you want us to use?”
But Heritage Oak, the claim continues, in consultation with its parent company, Nobel Learning Communities Inc., “unlawfully discriminated against Nikki.” The suit alleges that the school “repudiated Nikki’s core identity. It refused to use the name, pronoun, and gender corresponding to Nikki’s gender identity, required Nikki to wear the boy’s uniform and use the boy’s restroom, and failed to address the bullying that Nikki was subjected to because of her gender identity and gender expression. Heritage Oak engaged in this intentional discrimination despite its express and prominently publicized policies of nondiscrimination, diversity, and teaching the ‘whole child,’ and despite the fact that Nikki’s parents repeatedly asked the school to respect her identity and repeatedly offered to help educate the school about the needs of transgender children.”
Heritage Oak has responded to the allegations with the following statement:
“We strive to meet the needs and well-being of all children in our schools and have been able to accommodate the needs of other transgender students in older grades at Nobel Learning Community schools without incident.
“We were mindful in this instance of the need to support not just this 7-year-old [now 8], but other young children. We believed it was extremely important to respond, not hastily, but with deliberate care, to decide when and how to inform and educate our entire elementary school community of students, staff and parents about the mid-year change of gender identity expression of a young child. Due to the sensitivity of the issue and age of the child, we believed we needed expert guidance regarding timing (such as, preparing children for a change they would see in spring semester of second grade and fall semester of third grade), process and age-appropriate communication.
“We told the family we had decided to retain an outside consultant to assist us, and we were communicating with the family on a consistent basis to discuss potential experts and specific accommodations (in addition to the other accommodations we had already offered, such as use of the single-unit staff bathroom, specific options as to girl’s uniform clothing and girl’s hairstyle, as well as ceasing to use gender groupings in physical education activities). Unfortunately, these accommodations were rejected and the parents withdrew their child.”
Rosenbaum dismisses the statement’s claims as “completely inaccurate.”
The Brar case is just the latest in which a transgender student is suing his or her school for discrimination, though such lawsuits — including those fought by students and their families in Florida, Maine, Colorado, and Wisconsin — typically revolve around bathroom access, making it an issue that has been politicized by both parties and has even made its way to the Supreme Court. One such federal lawsuit, by three transgender students against a school district in Pittsburgh was recently settled, with the district now allowing students to use restrooms that correspond to their “consistently and uniformly asserted gender identity.”
In Nikki’s case, the lawsuit alleges, Heritage Oak, as a secular, for-profit school, is bound by the same antidiscrimination laws that apply to all business establishments. “In failing to treat Nikki in accordance with her gender identity,” it claims, “Heritage Oak and Nobel Learning Communities Inc. violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, California Civil Code section 51, which explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression.”
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