An Iowa transgender high school student has been threatened with discipline if he uses the boys’ restroom that he has been using for more than a year-and-a-half.
Ethan Stucker, a 16-year-old student at Spirit Lake High School in Spirit Lake, Iowa, is set to graduate a year early in May, but says school officials are demanding he use the unisex bathroom in the teacher’s lounge for the remainder of the year.
“I went down to the office and the guidance counselors told me that if I continue to use the male restroom that I will have to speak to the principal and will be disciplined for that,” Stucker told the Sioux City-based ABC affiliate KCAU9.
“It really upset me,” the teen told Des Moines-based CBS affiliate KCCI in a separate interview. “And I had no idea that that was coming, so it really caught me off guard.”
Stucker’s mother, Jennifer Larson, said the abrupt change — which came more than a year-and-a-half after school officials agreed to permit her son to use the boys’ restroom — took her by surprise as well.
“I was not aware that there was any issue prior to them calling Ethan,” she said “And after the fact Ethan called me from school and he was crying and very upset.”
Larson said school officials told her that the change in policy was prompted, not due to concerns about safety, but because a student may have felt uncomfortable about sharing facilities with transgender individuals.
She added that the school’s proposed policy change is “unacceptable” and that her family is weighing their options, particularly if the school follows through on its threat to discipline her son.
“There was a concern that somebody felt uncomfortable,” she said. “And that’s not how the law is written, for comfort level.”
With this most recent change, Stucker becomes the latest transgender student to be barred from using a public school restroom due to his gender identity. Three separate federal appeals courts have previously ruled on behalf of transgender students — Virginia’s Gavin Grimm, Florida’s Drew Adams, and Wisconsin’s Ashton Whitaker — finding that school policies barring them from facilities matching their gender identity are both discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Moreover, Stucker argues that the proposed policy violates the both the Iowa Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, and guidelines from the Iowa Department of Education.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed that transgender students who experience discrimination due to their gender identity are protected by Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination.
The Education Department also said it would hear complaints from transgender students barred from gender-affirming restrooms — a reversal from a Trump-era policy in which the department’s Office for Civil Rights said it might consider complaints filed by transgender students alleging they were discriminated against in schools, but not in cases where they were barred from restrooms or locker rooms matching their gender identity.
Spirit Lake High School Principal Casey O’Rourke said in a statement to KCAU9 that school officials are aware of the request and will meet to “accommodate the matter. He also attempted to defend the school from charges of discrimination, saying officials are “very sensitive to transgender issues.”
Superintendent David Smith told KCCI the district is currently investigating the issue and is sensitive to the concerns of “both sides.”
“We have and continue to provide multiple restroom facilities attempting to accommodate both positions on the issue so all our students feel emotionally and physically safe,” Smith said in the statement.
Stucker has started an online petition to allow transgender students to use public restrooms at Spirit Lake schools. Thus far, more than 1,000 people have signed it.
In the meantime, he says he will refuse to use the unisex restroom in the teacher’s lounge, arguing: “I have every right to be treated the same as every other male student.”
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