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Muslim, Christian parents sue Ohio school board over transgender bathroom and locker room policies

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A coalition of Muslim and Christian parents in Bethel, Ohio, with the help of America First Legal (AFL), are suing a local school board over a policy which allows students to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their chosen gender identity, which the parents claim was implemented secretly without public consent. 

The parents claim the rule, which could result in children using the same bathroom as peers of the opposite biological sex, is a violation of their parental and religious Constitutional rights and Ohio state law. 

The Bethel School District started allowed students to use facilities that align with their “preferred gender identity” after a faculty member of the district proposed the change at a September 13, 2021 school board meeting, according to the lawsuit. Before the rule change and since its founding in 1917, the school district has prevented students from using intimate facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms, that didn’t match their biological sex. 

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The faculty member who introduced the rule change to the board said it was unfair that transgender students had to use a private restroom away from the main restrooms and that a student who identifies as female could not use the girls’ restroom simply “because they were born a man,” according to the lawsuit. 

Between the board meeting in September and the January adoption of the new rule, there was no public discussion or vote regarding the rule, the lawsuit states. 

The Bethel School District changed the rule “in secret to avoid community opposition,” which is a violation of the Ohio Open Meetings Act, making the rule change invalid, the lawsuit argues. Parents felt “blindsided” by the new rule, which they argue compromises their beliefs on “safety, privacy, modesty, religion, and historical views of sex,” according to the complaint. 

The board claims it had “no choice” but to make the change in compliance with Title IX because “the Federal government was threatening school funding, and potential litigation was imminent.” In the lawsuit, AFL called the school board’s claims “incorrect,” noting the Title IX regulations “expressly provide for Bethel’s historic practice of separating intimate facilities based on biological sex.”

AFL vice president Gene Hamilton reiterated the organization’s commitment to ensuring students right to privacy.

“School districts across the country – the leadership of which have been captured by woke ideologues and weak-spined bureaucrats – are actively destroying fundamental rights,” Hamilton said in a statement. 

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“Generations of Americans have grown up in environments that have unquestionably respected students’ personal privacy in intimate spaces, separated by biological sex,” he added. “Yet here we are as a society in the year 2022 subjecting students across this country to the kinds of anti-science, social experiments that would have once been unfathomable and absurd a decade ago.”

Members of Bethel’s Muslim community, including parents who brought the suit, donated resources to build a sex-neutral restroom next to the school’s other restrooms, according to the lawsuit. 

They believed the sex-neutral restroom would allow transgender students to use the bathroom in the same area as other students, so they didn’t have to use restrooms in other parts of the building, according to the lawsuit. Instead, Bethel School District “took the donors’ resources and built the restroom” but continued with the current policy, “without telling the donors,” AFL argues. 

The school district also said transgender students could use the communal facilities of their chosen gender identity and if other students did not want to use those same facilities, they could use a single person private restroom, like the one provided by the Muslim community.

Multiple children represented in the lawsuit said that “because of Bethel’s policies” they “hold their urine and avoid using the restroom at school if at all possible” and if they do “it causes them anxiety and emotional distress.” One child said she goes to the bathroom with a friend “to help protect her and make sure that no boy violates her modesty.”

The Muslim parents involved in the lawsuit believe the school’s policies place their children in a situation of compromised modesty and burdens their right to raise their children in the Muslim faith because the school promotes LGBTQ+ ideology, according to the lawsuit. 

Bethel students at least as young as fifth grade are required to complete assignments that promote LGBTQ+ beliefs, according to the lawsuit. In one example, a fifth-grade reading comprehension assignment tells the story of “a queen who wanted to be a king and her noble struggle to be accepted as a boy.”

AFL argues the reading assignment is “not directly related to academic instruction,” but is instead intended to affect students’ “behavior, emotions, or attitudes related to sexual identity, gender, and transgenderism.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Bethel is administering student surveys “regarding their views on sexual and transgender issues, without providing notice to parents or obtaining the consent of parents,” to “affect behavioral, emotional, or attitudinal characteristics of the Plaintiffs’ children related to sex and gender,” according to the lawsuit. 

Congress’ Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) restricts children’s participation in surveys and the collection of personal information, which would require parental consent. Because Bethel did not to provide parental notice or obtain consent as required by the PPRA before administering surveys, it is in violation of federal law, the complaint alleges.

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PPRA also prohibits psychiatric or psychological treatment “that are not directly related to academic instruction” and are “designed to affect behavioral, emotional, or attitudinal characteristics of an individual,” according to the lawsuit. 

The school board has guaranteed equal educational opportunities for certain “protected classes,” which includes religion, as well as gender identity and transgender students. Under what the lawsuit described as the district’s “misinterpretation of Title IX,” the board is providing communal intimate facilities for transgender students in line with their beliefs, while denying the Muslim and Christian families the policies that align with their religious beliefs. 

 “All Bethel parents, whether religious or not, have the fundamental right to choose and guide the education and raising of their children,” the lawsuit states. 

The Bethel school district declined to comment. 

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