A transgender student who alleged discrimination over restroom access and being isolated from classmates has won a $218,500 settlement from the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District.
The district also agreed to policy changes that include letting transgender students play sports on teams consistent with their gender identity, said Megan Peterson, executive director of Gender Justice, a St. Paul nonprofit that teamed with Best & Flanagan LLP to represent the student and his mother in the case.
"I'm glad there'll be new gender-affirming policies put into place and no one else has to go through what I went through," said Matt Woods, who left the district and will be a high school senior next year. "Gender-affirming policies will save lives."
The development announced Wednesday marked the second time in recent months that a Minnesota district — Anoka-Hennepin being the other — settled a case involving the rights of transgender students.
In a statement, the district said that it "has not admitted to any wrongdoing" and that its insurer was paying the full cost of the settlement, with no public tax money being used.
"The district is pleased that its insurer has elected to resolve this matter so that the district can continue to focus on providing a high-quality education to all students in a safe and welcoming environment," the district said.
Woods was a sixth-grader at Buffalo Community Middle School in September 2015 when he transitioned socially, adopting the pronouns "he" and "him" to align with his gender identity.
He wanted to use the boys' toilets and locker rooms, but instead was limited to a single-occupancy facility that no other student was required to use, according to a lawsuit filed against the district in 2019.
Stress and anxiety over the situation led to Woods being hospitalized for mental health treatment in December 2015, and after his return to school, he again was denied use of the boys' facilities for the remainder of the school year and in 2016-17.
The school held firm to its position on restroom access despite requests from health care providers and the state Department of Education that Woods be allowed to use the boys' facilities, Peterson said Wednesday.
After being hospitalized again, Matt's mother enrolled him in a private Minneapolis school that she said was more expensive but also more accommodating. He now lives in greater Minnesota, he said Wednesday, and is an aspiring artist who hopes to go to college and gain an apprenticeship as a tattoo artist and piercer.
His struggles as a transgender student were similar to those of the Anoka-Hennepin student who won a $300,000 settlement after being barred from using the boys' locker room while competing for the Coon Rapids High swim team — and who also had to use a bathroom no other student was required to use.
He was hospitalized three times for mental health concerns, according to court documents, before he transferred out of Anoka-Hennepin in 2017.
Last September, the state Court of Appeals issued a pivotal ruling in the Anoka-Hennepin case by saying that requiring a transgender student to use a different locker room because of his or her sexual orientation was discrimination under the education provision of the state's human rights act.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a school board in the state of Virginia seeking to reinstate its transgender bathroom ban.
Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109