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Hanover School Board sued after transgender bathroom policy vote

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Posted at 11:17 AM, Dec 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 11:17:58-05

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has filed a lawsuit against the Hanover County School Board over its vote last month to not adopt a transgender bathroom policy.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of five parents with transgender students in Hanover Schools, alleged the Hanover School Board broke two laws at its November 9 meeting. It was at that meeting when the board voted 4-to-3 to not adopt a policy to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

ACLU Virginia's legal director said by doing that, the board violated a state law that required school boards to at least adopt a model policy developed by the state on this and topics covering transgender students.

"We also challenge it on the basis of a second law that actually allows parents to sue their school district within 30 days of an adverse decision by a school board," Eden Heilman, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia, said.

Plaintiff Kelly Merrill said without a policy place, her transgender son is afraid to use the restroom at school.

"We're really at the mercy of whatever personnel on hand are willing to do with and for us, and that can change at any moment," Merrill said. "We're very vulnerable without a policy."

The ACLU has asked the court to issue an injunction against the school board to follow the law.

"To take the appropriate steps to adopt the policies necessary so that they come into compliance with the state statute that requires these policies," Heilman said.

University of Richmond Law Professor Jack Preis, who discussed the potential outcomes of the Nov. 9 decision with CBS 6, said the lawsuit was not surprising and said the ACLU had a strong case at the moment.

"There's a pretty clear law saying you have to adopt a model policy, and unfortunately, their policy has not been adopted. So they're in violation of the law," Preis said.

Hanover School Board chair Ola Hawkins said it was not the board's practice to comment on pending litigation.

The day after the November vote, Hawkins said several Hanover School Board members expressed a desire for more time to craft a solution that worked for all -- but she did not establish a timeline. When asked for an update on that front, she reiterated the board's practice not to comment on pending litigation.

Speaking against a transgender bathroom policy at the November 9 meeting, Hanover parent Lauren Mast said she was uncomfortable allowing her daughter to use the same bathroom as a male or transgender student.

"I am very passionate about my daughter because I'm a victim of sexual assault in a bathroom," she said.

Following the November vote, Hanover mom Kim Thies fought back tears and said she was disappointed with the outcome.

Thies said her son is a transgender student in Hanover schools who was often bullied.

"Tonight the school board just made a decision that that’s okay," Thies said.

A date has not yet been set for the case to be heard in court.

The Hanover County School board has a meeting scheduled for December 14, 2021 and the lawsuit is slated to be discussed in a closed session.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.