Drew Adams and his mom were the first ones there, sitting close together on a bench outside a federal courtroom in Jacksonville with a 10-story view of downtown, courtesy of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
Back at Allen D. Nease High School, it was the first day of school, where Adams is entering his junior year.
Adams, 16, sued the St. Johns County School Board on June 26, saying he is unlawfully required to use gender-neutral restrooms and denied access to the boys rooms at Nease because he is transgender. He and his mother Erica Kasper would like to see the school board change its policy actively enforced since September 2015, shortly after Adams began identifying as a male and using the boys room.
To this end, his counsel in July filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the school board, requesting Adams be granted access to the boys rooms on campus prior to a trial.
A federal judge on Thursday denied that request. However, noting the seriousness and importance of the case, Judge Timothy J. Corrigan said he would expedite the nonjury trial to as soon as December.
Adams’ lawsuit argues that requiring him to use a different bathroom than other boys is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which forbids sex discrimination in education.
According to the complaint, Adams has been inconvenienced by having to use any of three gender-neutral restrooms on the 200,000-square-foot campus, and has also been “stigmatized.”
His lead counsel, Tara Borelli with Lambda Legal in Atlanta, said Adams and Kasper filed the lawsuit only after their efforts to work with the district proved fruitless.
She said Adams was pulled out of class his freshman year by three school counselors who informed him he could no longer use the boys room — after he had been using the facilities for five or six weeks. When Adams asked if he had done anything wrong, Borcelli said the counselors replied “no.” The school board has not contested Adams’ account, she added.
“Drew is a boy,” Borelli said, adding the rules are wrongfully singling out Adams and separating him from his peers.
Lead counsel for the school board, Terry Harmon with Tallahassee-based Sniffen & Spellman said the school board lawfully restricts usage of boys and girls rooms to students of the corresponding, biological sex, and not according to the gender as identified by the student.
However, there were more questions than answers after the nearly 2 1/2-hour hearing.
Corrigan’s questions for the school board’s counsel included how schools determine sex and enforce the policy the school board says it has. He also asked whether the school board would prefer Adams go back to using the girls room at this point.
Harmon said the bottom line is the schools are not going to check sex at the door but if a complaint by a student of the opposite sex, or a parent of that student, comes up they have to respond.
He also said the school board also only recognizes Adams as a female “for purposes of bathroom use only,” adding they refer to Adams as a male in all court documents and proceedings.
Still, Corrigan asked how the school board draws the distinction who is biologically male or female, whether it’s based on the gender of the student as indicated the birth certificate or otherwise.
His questions for Adams’ representation included why Adams waited to file his suit a year after the latest recorded back-and-forth between him and school district on the bathroom issue.
Borelli said “the school has all the power here” and that Adams and Kasper took action immediately, albeit without results.
Harmon said the school board has been upfront from the start about its position. He also called Adams’ request for a preliminary injunction “drastic and rare relief.”
Corrigan, in the meantime, said he was not criticizing the case so much as the timeline as far as his questioning was concerned. However, he also said the lag between the apparent impasse and the actual filing of the lawsuit made it hard for him to say there was “irreparable harm” done that needed immediate relief.
The judge said he would be uncomfortable making any constitutional determination on the matter, without evidence, even if only on a preliminary basis, given the limited time the school board (as well as his own office) had to review the case. He said while recent case law might suggest things are leaning in Adams’ favor, there are also some differences in the facts and circumstances at stake.
Nonetheless, Corrigan addressed Adams directly and said the last thing he wants to be is “someone adding to your problems.” He said even if he had ruled in favor of granting the preliminary injunction, there would still be the trial afterward to affirm or disaffirm.
“I do take your case seriously,” he told Adams, adding he was “entitled to prompt consideration.”
Corrigan also said he appreciated the difficulty of the issues at play in the case, noting, for example, there are not just Adams’ rights in question but the privacy rights of fellow students.
“I don’t deny the difficulty of these issues,” he said. “I don’t.”
St. Augustine Record