Access to Education: Transgender Students in Missouri's Public Education System

By Hayter, Cailynn | Missouri Law Review, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Access to Education: Transgender Students in Missouri's Public Education System


Hayter, Cailynn, Missouri Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

"While opponents of transgender access experience isolated victories, the overwhelming evidence is unmistakable. Prudent decision makers must swallow any feelings of animus, do what's best for the student, and save the district the headache of legal hassles." (1)

Although discussion about the rights of transgender students has come to the forefront of our society within the past year, the issue has been debated and researched for decades. (2) This Note addresses the difficulty in protecting the rights of transgender students while also recognizing the need to provide security and privacy for all students. In balancing these concerns, how should schools proceed on the question that has most vexed public schools as they navigate the rights of transgender students: which restroom should transgender students use?

Following Caitlyn Jenner (3) announcing herself to the world as transgender in the spring of 2015, (4) an increasing number of youth have begun to also openly identify as transgender.5 Activists across the United States saw Jenner's revelation as an opportunity to advocate for the transgender community. However, one commentator asserted Jenner's celebrity status distracts from the "lived experiences of trans [students] who continue to battle discrimination when accessing basic needs such as... education." (6) Studies and reports, showing that transgender students have a harder time being successful in school than non-transgender students, corroborate the notion that transgender students experience discrimination in schools. (7)

Throughout the past several years, the American legal system has dealt with a number of cases regarding the right of transgender students to access the restroom and locker room of the gender with which they identify. (8) Unfortunately, courts have not been consistent when ruling on the issue of restroom access for transgender students, holding both for and against their right to the facilities of their choice. (9) This leaves school districts without clear guidelines for protecting non-transgender and transgender students with respect to facility access.

In 2015, Missouri encountered the uncertainty that surrounds restroom access for transgender individuals. The Hillsboro School District made national news when the first openly transgender student at the district was allowed--but later denied--to use the restroom corresponding to her gender identity. (10) In Kansas City, another transgender student also made national headlines after participating as a female cheerleader and being crowned as the first transgender homecoming queen. (11) Both of these schools made internal decisions regarding how to handle these situations, highlighting that Missouri school districts currently have no statutory guidance from the legislature regarding what type of policy should be implemented when it comes to transgender students in restrooms. (12) Because no statute addresses the issue, school districts lack guidance when dealing with the practical concerns associated with accommodating students on a daily basis. This exposes each district to potential liability. (13) Having a statute would allow schools to worry less about liability and more about fulfilling the goals of the education system: to not only help students achieve in the classroom, but also to promote citizenship, diversity, and inclusion.

Although the questions about whether transgender students have a right to use the restrooms of their gender identity in public schools have been centered on moral and religious concerns, this Note does not focus on those aspects. Instead, it focuses on legal precedent and the implications of developing law on the issue in Missouri. The first half of this Note discusses the federal and state legal backgrounds of transgender students' right to use the restroom of their gender identity, while the second half discusses the need for the Missouri General Assembly to adopt a specific statute protecting this right. …

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