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Transgender Student Awarded $300K Settlement In Discrimination Lawsuit Against Anoka-Hennepin School District

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and the nonprofit Gender Justice have announced a $300,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed against Anoka-Hennepin School District based on its alleged mistreatment of a transgender student.

Gender Justice, the ACLU-MN and Stinson LLP announced the settlement in a virtual press conference early Tuesday afternoon. Nick, the transgender student, also released a statement.

"I never want any student to experience the discrimination and cruelty I experienced from the adults at my school," Nick said. "It means a lot to see the courts protect transgender students like me. Today's settlement agreement makes it very clear that segregating transgender students doesn't just dehumanize us, it violates our legal rights."

In addition to the $300,000 settlement, the school district has also agreed to make several reforms, according to the announcement. These include:

- Reaffirming its commitment to comply with the Minnesota Human Rights Act and not discriminate against or segregate transgender students.
- Developing a policy to allow every student to use all facilities consistent with their gender identity that includes a complaint procedure and a prohibition on reprisals.
- Training all school board members, staff and students on these policies.
- Affirming that students of all gender identities are valued and welcome.

"Over the past year, we've seen a growing wave of political attacks against the rights of transgender children to health care, education or even to play sports," said Gender Justice Executive Director Megan Peterson. "Students like Nick need and deserve the same acceptance as their classmates. Instead, far too many are being targeted for discrimination by adults who should be watching out for them. With this settlement, we hope to send a message that discrimination against trans students is not only wrong, it comes at a cost."

The complaint was filed in February of 2019. According to ACLU-MN staff attorney David McKinney, the teen started at Coon Rapids High School in 2015. McKinney said after joining the boys' swim team and using the boys' locker room for months, the school board stepped in in February of 2016 and told the student he would be disciplined if he continued to use the locker room.

"The board singled him out. They segregated him from his classmates and forced him to use a facility no one else had to use," McKinney said.

RELATED: ACLU Of Minnesota Files Lawsuit Against Anoka-Hennepin School District

This led to bullying and threats against the student and his family, the lawsuit said. The student attended the high school for two years until he and his family made the decision to switch school districts.

Officials from the ACLU-MN and Gender Justice say the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that it's a violation of the state's constitution and the Minnesota Human Rights Act for school districts to "segregate transgender students from their peers in locker room facilities."

The school district released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying the appeals court decision established "clarity" when it comes to transgender student locker room access. Here's the full statement:

"The Minnesota Court of Appeals has established clarity for transgender student access to locker rooms. Since the decision, Anoka-Hennepin has modified its policy and procedures as well as training of staff and students regarding student right of access to any and all facilities consistent with their gender identity. All legal issues have been resolved.

"The district is committed to providing a safe and respectful learning environment for all students and families including transgender and gender nonconforming students. The Court of Appeals notes the district's approach in the majority opinion by stating, "We are sympathetic to all parties involved and readily acknowledge the task the school district faced as it sought to balance the privacy interests of all of its students while addressing issues that are of first impression in Minnesota."

A previous investigation into Anoka-Hennepin's past treatment of students who endured sex-based harassment led to a five-year Department of Justice consent decree that expired in March of 2017.

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