Rural PA Transgender Second Grader Files Federal Lawsuit

A second grader in Schuylkill County has filed a federal lawsuit in response to discrimination based on her gender identity. The complaint in A.H. v. Minersville School District et al, which was filed on Thursday, alleges longtime anti-trans discrimination by the principal and district administration. Minersville School District is located in rural Schuylkill County, approximately 50 miles northeast of Harrisburg.

In May of 2016, A.H., a transgender student at Minersville Elementary School, filed a complaint of discrimination against her school district through her parents with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC).  The complaint alleges that A.H. has been “subjected to numerous instances of discrimination and retaliation at the hands of Defendants, [Minersville School District], [Superintendent] McBreen, and [Principal] Yacobacci.”

Despite the school district’s resulting confirmation that A.H. would be able to use the restroom that corresponded with her gender identity, Superintendent McBreen informed A.H.’s mother Tracey Handling that they would not issue any formal policy on trans student access to bathrooms and that it would be handled on a case-by-case basis. As a result there is no official procedure or precedent to protect A.H. or other trans students from any harassment or from the district reverting back to their old practice of forcing students to use a restroom that does not correlate to their gender identity.

According to the complaint, in September 2016 A.H. suffered an injury to her toe by one of her older siblings. Handling wrote to the district to request that A.H. be allowed to wear flip-flops, as the injury prevented her from being able to wear closed toe shoes. Principal Yacobacci allegedly responded by reporting the family to Children and Youth Services because of the injury and when Handling asked for reasoning behind the decision, Yacobacci began screaming at her in front of A.H. and other district employees.

Allegedly, Yacobacci had previously forced A.H. to use the men’s restroom on a class field trip and made her wait until all the other students had used the facilities and until the facilities had been searched and cleared prior to A.H. being allowed to use them. As the complaint states, “this action singled out Plaintiff A.H., and made her classmates ask why she was using the boy’s restroom, since she was a girl. A.H. went home upset and was asking her mother why she was singled out and forced to use the men’s bathroom on the field trip.”

Additionally, the complaint alleges that McBreen said that in order to consider allowing A.H. to use the women’s restroom he would be required to write a letter to all other parents in the district to gauge their response, before saying to Handling, “are you ready for all the backlash of this?”

The harm that this discrimination and isolation may be doing to A.H. is unimaginable. In the complaint it is stated that, “defendants have marginalized and stigmatized A.H., based on her sex, gender identity, and transgender status… As a result, Plaintiff A.H. has experienced and continues to experience the harmful effects of being segregated from, and treated differently than, her classmates of the same gender identity, including lower self-esteem, embarrassment, humiliation, social isolation, and stigma.” The complaint goes on to describe gender identity as “a core, defining trait and is so fundamental to one’s identity and conscience that a person cannot be required to abandon it as a condition of equal treatment. Gender identity generally is fixed at an early age and is highly resistant to change through intervention.”

The complaint does not provide an update on the status of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission claim.

On Friday afternoon, the federal case was assigned to Senior Judge James M. Munley of the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Judge Munley was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1998. He is known for famously striking down a local anti-immigration ordinance in Hazleton that would have penalized business owners if they attempted to hire illegal immigrants and punished landlords for attempting to provide them housing.

A.H. v. Minersville is among the first known federal lawsuits in Pennsylvania that seeks to advance the civil rights of transgender students through the judiciary. This case has been filed just a few days after the victory of a preliminary injunction being granted in Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District (in Western Pennsylvania), which blocks enforcement of an anti-trans directive.

We will continue to monitor this case and provide updates on any new information as it becomes available.

UPDATE 3/7/2017: The case is going to be heard by Judge Robert D. Mariani, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011 as a US District Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

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