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ACLU accuses Pinellas school district of discriminating against transgender student

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint accusing Pinellas County Schools of discriminating against a transgender nursing student who was banned from using female restrooms at Pinellas Technical Education Centers.

This summer, officials at the school’s Clearwater campus told Alex Wilson, who was born male but has lived as a woman for four years, they would take legal action against her if she continued using the female restroom she had been using since enrolling in the school in November. Instead, they said she must use a bathroom in a storage area, which was a 10-minute walk from class.

In a complaint filed Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil rights, the ACLU claims the district violated federal Title IX, which outlaws sex discrimination in schools.

The complaint will likely result in Department of Education investigation, said ACLU Staff Attorney Daniel Tilley. Although Title IX was not crafted with transgender people in mind, there is precedent for courts using existing law to extend protection from discrimination to other groups, he said.

District officials acted after classmates of Wilson’s complained about her using the same bathroom, according to the complaint.

They said it was district policy for transgender students to be offered a separate restroom but declined to comment on the ACLU complaint.

“It’s a general practice of the district not to discuss pending litigation,” said spokeswoman Melanie Marquez-Parra.

The ACLU wrote to the district in August warning the district that it was not complying with federal law.

In a Aug. 28 letter to the ACLU, Superintendent Michael Grego said he had directed district staff to investigate how Wilson had been treated and and to “provide appropriate accommodations, which may include creating one or more unisex restrooms.”

That didn’t solve the issue, though, Tilley said.

“It doesn’t resolve the humiliation they are placing on her and doesn’t resolve that they are segregating her,” Tilley said.

Wilson was recently told she can use a male faculty bathroom, for which she must request a key.

“I’m trying to get my rights,” Wilson said. “I’m basically being told I can’t use the same restroom as everyone else; no matter how you look at it, it’s discrimination.”

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