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Details in Linn-Mar’s new transgender student policy could shield district from lawsuits

Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 10:40 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A plan to accommodate transgender students with more specific details could potentially shield school districts from future lawsuits.

The Linn-Mar Community School Board approved a new policy for students on Monday in a 5-2 vote. The policy will create a “gender support plan” for students in seventh graders or older. Those plans will include a student’s new name and what facilities, like bathrooms, they use.

Around 80 people came to speak about the new policy on Monday night. A majority of those speakers were against the policy because parental involvement isn’t required, concerns about student safety, and general criticisms of what they consider un-Christian policies.

The district said it is trying to follow state and federal laws including Iowa’s Civil Rights Act and Title IX. Iowa’s Civil Rights Act specifically names “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as deserving of special protection from discrimination.

The Iowa City Community School District has a similar policy to the Linn-Mar Community School District. The Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and Dubuque Community School Districts didn’t get back to TV9 after we reached out this afternoon. TV9 did find board non-discrimination policies online.

Stan Thompson, who is the executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, said the civil rights act doesn’t specifically address requirements in a school board policy.

Keenan Crow, who is the director of policy and advocacy for an LGBTQ advocacy group called One Iowa, said without a specific policy, an unaware school employee could violate a student’s civil rights. They said, if that occurs, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission could start an investigation.

“What school districts would do well for themselves, to avoid legal liability is to spell a lot of these things out,” Crow said. “So there’s not miscommunications or misunderstandings on the part of administrators, staff, teachers, etc.”

Miriam Van Heulelem, who was an attorney helping the Linn-Mar School Board develop its policy, said the commission could then possibly restrict federal funding.

A lawsuit is another potential action, which could cost a school district. A jury gave around $470 Thousand Dollars in damages and lawyer fees to a former transgender corrections employee in 2019, which was upheld in 2022. The suit involved not being able to use the men’s restroom and locker rooms.

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