As students return to school from distance and remote learning, some students will be returning to school for the first time since socially transitioning at home. That means some students will come back to school with new names, new pronouns, and new gender identities.
Not only have these students changed while they’ve been away from the physical classroom; schools’ and school districts’ legal obligations to support them have also changed.
School administrators work hard to create welcoming and inclusive environments for all students. The following information is designed to help Minnesota schools maintain their legal obligation to welcome transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students back into respectful, informed, and trans-inclusive learning environments.
Since the last school year, a state Court of Appeals decision and two legal settlements, together totaling more than $500,000 for transgender students, have clarified and cemented protections for transgender students in Minnesota schools.
These cases affirm that transgender students in Minnesota are legally entitled to:
- Use the same restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities as other students;
- Use the restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities that align with their gender identity;
- Participate authentically in all school-related activities;
- Participate on athletic teams and school activities that align with their gender identity; and
- Be protected from bullying.
In March of 2021, Gender Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, and Stinson LLP reached a settlement with the Anoka-Hennepin School District on behalf of Nick, a transgender student in the district who was barred from using the boys’ locker room.
The settlement followed a decision from the state Court of Appeals, which ruled that it violates both the Minnesota Constitution and the Minnesota Human Rights Act for a school or school district to segregate transgender students from their peers in locker room and bathroom facilities.
Just months after Gender Justice announced Nick’s settlement, a major settlement was reached in another case brought by Matt, a transgender student in the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District. Matt’s legal settlement further cemented the protections transgender students have at school, and it demonstrated clearly that the law protects transgender students in Minnesota.
“The Minnesota Constitution, as well as the Minnesota Human Rights Act, are firmly on the side of transgender students,” says Jess Braverman, legal director for Gender Justice. “It’s not just a suggestion that schools respect the gender identities of trans students; it’s the law.”
Minnesota schools and school districts share a mission of educating and supporting all students in our state, and the new Court of Appeals decision establishes clarity and direction for creating safe and equitable learning environments for transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students. By knowing the law and following the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Minnesota Constitution, together we can ensure that all students have access to safe and supportive education.
For more information on how to create school environments where transgender and gender nonconforming students are safe, supported and fully included, and have equal access to the educational opportunities provided to all students, check out the Minnesota Department of Education’s Toolkit for Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students or the HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program, which provides “LGBTQ+ and gender-inclusive professional development training, lesson plans, booklists and resources specifically designed for educators and youth-serving professionals.”