The parents of a transgender child and Nova Classical Academy recently reached a $120,000 settlement and an agreement that revised the school’s policy supporting transgender and gender nonconforming students.
Parents Dave and Hannah Edwards said they hope other schools learn from their case. “Hopefully, no other family will have to go through this,” Hannah Edwards said.
The controversy began when the parents wanted their child to socially transition at the St. Paul public charter school without fear of being harassed or bullied.
The family withdrew their child from Nova in February 2016 and filed a case with the city of St. Paul, alleging the school was violating the city’s human rights ordinance. A year later, the city determined that there was probable cause that the child was discriminated against, prompting the parents and school officials to resolve the issue through mediation.
In a written statement, school officials said they “strongly disagreed” with the probable cause finding but agreed to confidential mediation in hopes of avoiding a costly lawsuit. Last month, both sides reached a settlement and the parents agreed not to sue the school.
The conflict began before the start of the 2015-16 school year when the Edwards family informed Nova that their 5-year-old child was gender nonconforming. They asked the school to protect their kindergartner from harassment and asked that Nova clarify its policies so that their child be allowed to wear any of the approved uniform clothing rather than being restricted to wearing clothing labeled for boys.
Nova attorney Laura Booth said the family and school began working together in late August 2015. She said an antibullying policy was in place that would prohibit harassment against a nonconforming or transgender student. The school hired an expert to train its staff and inform the community to create an environment where the student was “very much accepted” and then a couple of incidents happened, Booth added.
From the school’s perspective, the incidents were primarily remarks by 5-year-olds who were curious, Booth said.
“The pushback, the anger and the ugly stuff came from outside the Nova community,” Booth said.
From the family’s perspective, their child faced harassment for her gender expression and they formally requested in November 2015 that the school adopt a gender inclusion policy.
“Initially, they wanted the school to be proactive about helping teachers and students to interact positively and do some very basic education about gender inclusivity and gender diversity,” said Lisa Stratton, an attorney and co-founder of Gender Justice, a St. Paul nonprofit organization that represented the family in their case against Nova.
“Certainly they were advocating for their child but they were also trying to make the school welcoming and inclusive to all gender diverse kids who are there.”
In January 2016, school officials agreed to create a task force to put together a gender inclusion policy.
“But there was no time frame or guarantee that it would go through,” Dave Edwards said. “It left a lot of space for hate and a lot of misinformation.”
That same month, the Minnesota Family Council, which rented space at the school to discuss the issues unfolding at Nova, argued that parents be allowed to opt out of gender discussions with their children.
“People have a right to believe what they believe at home but in a public school, everyone needs to be safe,” Dave Edwards said.
By May 2016, Nova adopted a gender inclusion policy in a quicker time frame than normal, Booth said.
It was too late for the Edwards family. The parents had pulled their daughter out of Nova three months earlier because the child planned to transition to using a female name and pronouns but they felt their child wouldn’t be safe from harassment.
The Edwards were pleased the school eventually passed the policy because “there are other kids who are trans at Nova and they still needed the policy,” Dave Edwards said.
Not all families welcomed the policy, which prompted fewer than five families to withdraw their children from Nova, Booth said.
The agreement reached last month revised that policy because it was “still discriminatory against trans kids,” Dave Edwards said.
School officials called the changes “minor revisions and clarifications” and noted that its insurance company will pay $100,000 of the $120,000 in damages that will be paid to the Edwards family.
“Nova Classical Academy has never wavered in its commitment to providing a school environment free of discrimination of any kind, where every student feels safe, welcomed, accepted and valued,” school officials said in a written statement.