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ACLU sues Missouri school district for not letting transgender student use the girls' restroom

The glass-front entrance of Platte County High School. The school's name is on the brick wall to the right, and a flagpole flies an American flag to the left.
Platte County School District
A transgender student is suing Platte County High School over bathroom policies that required her to use the boys' or unisex bathroom.

Dustan Farr said the Platte County School District’s policy to ban transgender students from using the restroom that aligns with their gender identity has "crushed" his daughter's education.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri is suing the Platte County School District and its school board for refusing to allow a transgender student to use the restroom that aligns with her gender identity.

The lawsuit states a 16-year-old transgender student, identified as R.F., faced detention on two separate occasions at Platte County High School for using the girls’ restroom.

The school district’s policy forbids transgender students from using the restroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity, the lawsuit states, regardless of any gender transition or treatment a student may have undergone.

Dustan Farr, the student’s father, said the Platte County School District’s policies caused his daughter severe depression, leading her to attempt suicide twice.

“It’s just not right,” Farr said. “I could have lost my child, and I don't want someone else to have to feel what I did.”

The lawsuit asks for a policy change, as well as monetary damages.

According to the lawsuit, the school district’s policy “targets, restricts, and bans the use of certain restrooms and locker rooms for transgender youth based on generalized fears, negative attitudes, stereotypes, and moral disapproval of transgender people that are not legitimate bases for unequal treatment under any level of scrutiny.”

The lawsuit alleges the Platte County School District unlawfully discriminated against the student based on her gender and violated her equal protection rights under the state constitution.

The Platte County School District had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

R.F. started her freshman year in September 2021 at Platte County High School. The lawsuit states the assistant principal informed R.F. that policy required students to use either the restroom of their gender assigned at birth or the single gender-neutral restroom at the school.

According to the lawsuit, a district employee told R.F. that using the restroom that aligned with her gender was against the law, but did not reference a specific law.

The lawsuit alleges that the high school’s only gender-neutral restroom was not close to R.F.’s classes and frequently had a long line because it was used by all students. According to the lawsuit, her teachers talked to her about missing class time because of how long she took to use the restroom.

The lawsuit states that R.F. preferred to use one of the several girls’ restrooms at school.

“R.F. was forced to choose between using an impractical single-stall restroom and risk missing or being late to class as well as being singled out for using that restroom, using the boys’ restroom even though she is a transgender female, or using the girls’ restroom and risk punishment,” the lawsuit states.

R.F. was first verbally reprimanded for using the girls’ restroom in late November 2021. On December 9, she was suspended in-school for a day for using the girls’ restroom. She was suspended out-of-school for two days as punishment for continuing to use the girls’ restroom.

After she returned from the out-of-school suspension, R.F. used the boys’ restroom out of fear of further discipline. About a week after her return, the lawsuit states a male student pointed at R.F. in the restroom and told another student, “Maybe I should rape ‘her.’”

R.F. missed three weeks of class before the high school approved a virtual learning curriculum for her because the incident made her afraid to go to school, according to the lawsuit. She attempted to go back to school in person on March 1, but the lawsuit states classmates made harassing comments blaming her for the rape threat.

When R.F. returned to in-person class for the 2022-23 school year, the lawsuit states the policy prohibiting her from using the girls’ bathroom was still in place. The policy also applied to locker rooms used for physical education classes, which are a requirement to graduate.

Because of the locker room policy, R.F. avoided taking physical education classes. Around January 2023, the lawsuit states she left the Platte County School District.

‘It has crushed her education’

Farr said his daughter is doing better, but she faced similar pushback at another school district. When she turned 16, she decided she no longer wanted to go back to high school and plans to finish her diploma virtually.

“It has crushed her education. She went from being an ‘A’, ‘B’ student to – even virtual – D's and F's,” Farr said. “Nobody wants their kid to quit high school. And they keep pushing these kids, they're going to have dropout rates through the roof because no kid is going to want to be bullied.”

The lawsuit alleges that the district violated the Missouri Human Rights Act, which “protects certain classes of individuals from discrimination in places of public accommodation.” The lawsuit states that denying R.F. access to the girls bathroom and locker room based on her gender identity is a form of sex discrimination.

The lawsuit alleges that the district’s policy also discriminates on the basis of disability, because R.F. is diagnosed with gender dysphoria and is therefore a protected class under the same state law.

The lawsuit alleges R.F. “suffered harm from PCSD’s practice and policy of not allowing her to use the girls’ restroom, from PCSD staff punishing her when she did, and because of PCSD’s requirement that she use the boys’ restroom which resulted in anxiety, depression, and harassment.”

Farr said their hope is to get the bathroom policy changed — first at the Platte County School District and then statewide.

“People have a right to live their life the way that is right for them. The policies are… arcane, they're old, they're outdated. You need to move ahead with the times,” Farr said. “Suicide rate in LGBTQ kids is astronomically higher than any other group and drug use — it's a spiraling effect. And if someone doesn't stand up, we're gonna lose all of our kids.”

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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