Doe v. Boyertown Area School District
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Description: During the 2016-17 school year—without informing parents or students—the Boyertown Area School District secretly opened its high school locker rooms, showers, and restrooms to students of the opposite sex, which violated many students’ bodily privacy rights. Some of the students in the suit involuntarily encountered students of the opposite sex in various states of undress in school restrooms and locker rooms.
US Supreme Court won’t weigh in on whether schools can allow violation of students’ bodily privacy
The Boyertown Area School District secretly implemented the policy during the 2016-17 school year. Some male students learned about it only because they were undressing in their locker room and discovered that a female student was changing clothes with them. Embarrassed and confused, the students sought help from school officials, who told them they should just “tolerate it” and “make it as natural as possible.” One of those male students left the school entirely as a result.
“Students struggling with their beliefs about gender need compassionate support, but sound reasons based on common sense have always existed for schools to separate male and female teenagers in showers, restrooms, and locker rooms,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “No student’s recognized right to bodily privacy should be made contingent on what other students believe about their own gender. Because the 3rd Circuit’s decision made a mess of bodily privacy and Title IX principles, we believe the Supreme Court should have reviewed it. But we hope the court will take up a similar case in the future to bring much needed clarity to how the lower courts should handle violations of well-established student privacy rights.”
After parents learned about the policy change, school district officials told the male students that their alternative was to stop using the boys’ locker room. Another Boyertown student, Alexis Lightcap, learned of the policy when she encountered a boy in her restroom. She was shocked, afraid, and fled the restroom, but school officials refused to listen to her privacy concerns either.
The lawsuit, Doe v. Boyertown Area School District, argues that the school is violating its students’ fundamental right to bodily privacy under the U.S. Constitution and effectively denying them access to locker room and restroom facilities on the basis of sex under Title IX.
“These types of school policies have serious privacy implications. That’s why we hope the Supreme Court will eventually weigh in to protect students’ constitutional right to bodily privacy,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “All schools, including Boyertown Area School District, should be providing compassionate support for those dealing with gender dysphoria, but they should do so in ways that protect the privacy of all students.”
Independence Law Center attorneys who are serving as co-counsel for the students and parents are among more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF. Independence Law Center is a Pennsylvania-based pro-bono legal organization dedicated to advancing civil rights.
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John Bursch is senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom. Bursch has argued 12 U.S. Supreme Court cases and more than 30 state supreme court cases since 2011, and a recent study concluded that among all frequent Supreme Court advocates who did not work for the federal government, he had the 3rd highest success rate for persuading justices to adopt his legal position. Bursch served as solicitor general for the state of Michigan from 2011-2013. He has argued multiple Michigan Supreme Court cases in eight of the last ten terms and has successfully litigated hundreds of matters nationwide, including six with at least $1 billion at stake. As part of his private firm, Bursch Law PLLC, he has represented Fortune 500 companies, foreign and domestic governments, top public officials, and industry associations in high-profile cases, primarily on appeal. He received his J.D. magna cum laude in 1997 from the University of Minnesota Law School and is admitted to practice in numerous federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
Christiana Holcomb serves as legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is a key member of the Center for Conscience Initiatives. Since joining ADF in 2012, Holcomb has worked to protect women's and girls' sports and has defended the bodily privacy rights of students. She has also worked to protect the constitutionally protected freedom of churches, Christian schools, and Christian ministries to exercise their faith without government interference. Holcomb earned her J.D. in 2010 from Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy, where she graduated first in her class and served as a teaching assistant in criminal law. Also in 2010, Holcomb completed the ADF leadership development program to become a Blackstone Fellow. She is admitted to the state bar of California, the U.S. Supreme Court, and numerous federal district and appellate courts.