61ºF

Transgender student suing school board over bathroom policy

Nease student says county rule requires him to use gender-neutral facility

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A 16-year-old transgender student and his mother are suing the St. Johns County School Board because he was told he had to use a gender neutral restroom at Nease High School, the boy's attorney announced Wednesday.

Lambda Legal has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the school board in St. Augustine on behalf of Drew Adams, who will begin his junior year at Nease in Ponte Vedra Beach in August.

His attorney, Paul Castillo, said Drew is an honor student who wants to attend medical school to become a psychiatrist.

READ: Complaint filed for Drew Adams against St. Johns County School Board

According to Castillo, Drew has been living as a boy since 2015 and used the boys' restroom when he started his freshman year at Nease without any incident. 

Drew told News4Jax that at some point during his freshman year, someone anonymously reported that Drew was using the boys’ restroom, and he was told he could only use the gender-neutral restrooms.

“When I was pulled out of class and told I could no longer use the boys’ restroom, I was shocked and demoralized. It made me feel like my school didn’t want me just because I’m transgender,” Drew said. “It makes me sad to be told that they don’t want to treat me like all the other kids in school. I don’t want any other students to have to feel like this.”

Drew said in addition to feeling discriminated against by the rule, it forces him to use less convenient restrooms. He said there are fewer gender-neutral facilities and they are generally five to 10 minutes further away from his classes and in isolated areas.

"It's very anxiety provoking. It's very isolating to be told, 'Here's what the normal kids are doing. You're not allowed to do that. Here's what everyone's doing. You're not allowed to do that.' So it makes me aware the school sees me as a different person, as a lesser person, as a second-hand student and not like my peers, even though I'm just a normal kid," Drew said.

Drew's mother, Erica Adams Kasper, said she wants her son to have the same rights as other students.

"The right to use a regular restroom like a regular kid and have his only stress at school be about tests and not how much fluid have I had today and how far away is the bathroom," Kasper said. "But long-term, I would like for this district and all districts to recognize these kids are just kids and just want to use the bathroom and have a normal high school life like every other kid, and that ultimately should be the goal for all of us."

Castillo argues that the district's policy “separates Drew from his peers and treats him as unfit to share communal facilities with others.”

“Drew is a boy, but the St. John’s County School Board separates him from his peers and marks him as inferior just because he’s transgender. Forcing Drew to use a separate restroom sends a terrible message to the whole school community that Drew is different and somehow not worthy of an equal learning environment,” said Castillo, senior attorney and students’ rights strategist at Lambda Legal.  “The school board should be watching out for the well-being of all its students, but through their discriminatory actions, they have failed Drew and the other transgender students at the school. No student can thrive in a school where he is treated like a second-class person.”

Castillo said Drew is active in his local community as a volunteer at the Mayo Clinic, plays four musical instruments, enjoys video games and has several pets, including two rats named Biscuit and Noodle.

“I'm just a normal kid,” Drew said. “I do music stuff and art stuff, and I like science, and I happen to be trans. That does not mean that I'm a lesser citizen. That does not mean that I deserve to be discriminated against. I'm just a normal kid.”

In the complaint, Lambda Legal argues that the St. John County School Board’s “discriminatory restroom policy sends a purposeful message that transgender students in the school district are undeserving of the privacy, respect and protections afforded to other students.”

“It broke my heart when I learned that they were singling Drew out and making him feel unwanted,” Kasper said. “When he transitioned, I knew he might face some discrimination, but I never imagined that he would be disrespected and degraded by his school, too.”

Kasper wrote letters and had meetings with school officials, but they refused her requests to change the policy and allow Drew access to the boys’ restroom, Castillo said.

The complaint filed Wednesday argues that the school district’s policy to exclude transgender students from the restrooms that match their gender is unconstitutional because it discriminates based on sex in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act.

Castillo said Lambda Legal will file a motion for preliminary injunction soon “to seek relief from the school’s discriminatory policy.”

News4Jax contacted the school board for its response to the lawsuit.

“We disagree with the plaintiff’s interpretation of the law,” Superintendent Tim Forson said in a statement. “Beyond that, it would be inappropriate for us to try this case in the media. We had no knowledge of the complaint filed today before a press conference was held. We will work through the legal process with our school board and its general counsel.”