Family files gender discrimination charge against St. Paul public charter school

David and Hannah Edwards tell their family's story. Photo by James Robins.  

David and Hannah Edwards tell their family's story. Photo by James Robins.  

When David and Hannah Edwards enrolled their child at Nova Classical Academy for the 2015 - 2016 school year, they believed it would be a good place for her to learn and thrive. At the time, their child presented as a gender non-conforming boy—that is, as a boy who preferred clothing and activities often associated with girls. David and Hannah were open with the school about their child’s evolving gender identity at the time of enrollment.

Over the following months, it became apparent that their child’s gender identity was actually female. She underwent a social gender transition everywhere except Nova and now presents as a transgender girl.

In March, the Edwardses filed a charge of discrimination with the City of Saint Paul Department of Human Rights, alleging that Nova (a) failed to protect their child and other gender non-conforming and transgender students at Nova from persistent gender-based bullying and hostility, and (b) denied their child the ability to undergo a gender transition at Nova in a safe and timely way, as she had in all other areas of her life.

During the months between her enrollment at Nova and her social gender transition, the Edwardses’ child faced gender-based bullying and hostility at school. The response of the school was frustrating and upsetting: many of the staff were prepared to take effective action, but the school leadership prevented or delayed those actions.

In October 2015, after the Edwardses’ child faced a number of hostile comments, the staff prepared to conduct gender-specific training during the school’s anti-bullying week. They chose an age-appropriate book, “My Princess Boy”, to support in-class discussions about gender identity and expression.

However, the school leadership stopped the staff from using the book and ultimately prevented such proactive training from occurring. The leadership justified this action with several explanations, including that the book had not been approved by the appropriate committee, that discussing gender identity in class discriminated against other protected classes, and that the school community needed time to weigh in on “controversial” topics.

As a frightening environment developed, including a series of public committee and school board meetings filled with both discriminatory comments and misstatements of the law, the school leadership refused to take a clear position on the rights of gender non-conforming and transgender students.

While bullying and hostility continued in the classroom, the school leadership refused or delayed several proposed action steps, as well as forced the Edwardses and their child to be publicly outed in order to participate in decisions that would affect their child’s safety. The media caught wind of the issue and several negative and intrusive articles were published, such as this one in the Daily Signal.

Throughout the year, David and Hannah repeatedly asked the school to be prepared to support their child through a gender transition, should it become apparent that transition was necessary for her wellbeing. After their child expressed a consistent, persistent, and insistent desire to socially transition, Hannah and David notified the school in February 2016 that the time had come.

The Edwardses met with school officials to finalize all materials and information that would be presented to their child’s classmates and came to agreement on a plan of action. Key components included a letter to kindergarten families notifying them of her transition; use of the book “I Am Jazz” in each kindergarten classroom to educate students on the topic; and communications for any families who asked about opting out of the classroom education that would direct them to equivalent content and outline behavioral expectations for their child.

The next day, David and Hannah were abruptly informed that the agreed-upon plans were cancelled. They had to keep their child out of school until a meeting was held, during which the Edwards were informed that the school was not willing to use effective materials like “I Am Jazz”, would not conduct gender education without introducing delay or encouraging families to ”opt out", and would not even simply inform their child’s classmates of her accurate name and pronouns without delay or an "opt out" option.

Hannah and David were forced to withdraw their child from Nova Classical Academy. Seeking to create change, they filed a charge with the City of Saint Paul.

Read the charge.

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