Tennessee student privacy bill protects children traumatized by sexual abuse

ADF attorney to testify Tuesday on HB 2414
Monday, March 07, 2016

Attorney sound bite:  Matt Sharp

WHO: ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp
WHAT: Testimony on student physical privacy bill, HB 2414
WHEN: Tuesday, March 8, at 3 p.m. CST
WHERE: Tennessee House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee, Legislative Plaza, Room 29, Nashville

NASHVILLE – Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Matt Sharp will testify Tuesday before a Tennessee House subcommittee to provide expert legal counsel on House Bill 2414, a law that would protect the physical privacy of students in public school restrooms. The companion bill in the Senate is SB 2387.

“Protecting students from inappropriate exposure to members of the opposite sex is not only legal, it’s an important duty of officials who watch over our children,” said Sharp. “Letting boys into girls’ restrooms and changing areas, for example, is an invasion of privacy and a threat to student safety. This bill allows schools to make single-stall restrooms available to students who aren’t comfortable using restrooms designated for their biological sex while also protecting the privacy rights of other students—especially children who have suffered sexual trauma in the past. They are especially vulnerable to harm from exposure to unclothed members of the opposite sex.”

“In addition, this bill also serves to better insulate school districts from legal liability for violating the established right of students to bodily privacy,” Sharp added.

Many school districts that have considered opening all restrooms to both sexes have done so because the U.S. Department of Education incorrectly told them they had to. The DOE oversees, but has no authority to change, the federal law known as Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any school that receives federal funds. Despite its lack of authority, the DOE has begun to change the plain meaning of Title IX by saying that it requires schools to let boys who identify as girls go into girls’ restrooms, and vice versa. It has been telling schools across the country that they must do this or risk losing their Title IX funding.

“That’s not what Title IX means,” Sharp explained. “It’s deeply ironic that the Department of Education is using its lawless misinterpretation of Title IX to pressure schools to adopt policies that actually violate Title IX. For example, everyone has always understood that a school would violate Title IX if it knew that a boy was going into the girls’ locker room but did nothing to stop it. Now the DOE is telling schools that they must let boys who identify as girls into the girls’ locker room every day of the year, or else they will violate Title IX. That is illogical, illegal, and obviously violates the privacy rights of the girls.”
The Republican National Committee passed a resolution just days ago that, among other things, calls upon the Department of Education to rescind its inaccurate interpretation of Title IX and additionally calls upon state legislatures to enact laws like the one Tennessee is considering.

In January, ADF sent a letter to all public school districts in Tennessee to explain that no law requires Tennessee schools to open restrooms to members of the opposite sex. The letter encouraged districts to adopt their own student physical privacy policies that accommodate students with unique needs, such as providing access to unisex bathrooms, while also protecting other students’ privacy rights in sex-specific restrooms and locker rooms.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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