Nationally Ranked School Counters Complaint of Transgender Discrimination
Kelsey Harkness /
A nationally recognized charter school in Minnesota is fighting a complaint filed by the parents of a transgender kindergartner who allege the school enabled discrimination against their child.
Nova Classical Academy administrators said they will deny the allegations, filed last month with the city of St. Paul, while continuing their push to improve school policies to protect and respect all students.
“At Nova, we are committed to providing a school environment free of gender-bias and discrimination of any kind, where every student feels safe, welcomed, accepted, and valued,” the school said in a formal statement. “We plan to respond to the complaint by denying the allegations. We will present evidence that the school has taken all due measures to protect the student’s rights.”
In attempting to accommodate one kindergartner’s rights, however, two parents told The Daily Signal last week, the school is trampling on their own.
While working to build a more inclusive environment, they say, the school is excluding the rights of parents who object to the idea of introducing the topic of gender identity to their children at such a young age.
“The other side basically didn’t want us to have a voice, calling everything we say hateful or discriminatory or both,” one parent involved in recent events told The Daily Signal.
David and Hannah Edwards, the parents of the kindergartner, filed the complaint March 24 with the St. Paul Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Department. It alleges that Nova Classical Academy failed to adequately protect their child from bullying and other forms of discrimination.
Their child was born male, the Edwardses say, but now presents as a transgender girl.
Nova Classical Academy is a K-12 public charter school with 920 students. Based on the 2013-14 school year, U.S. News and World Report ranked its upper school as the No. 1 high school in Minnesota and the No.16 high school in the nation.
Gender Justice, the legal group representing the Edwardses in their complaint, said the school:
(a) failed to protect their child and other gender nonconforming 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.
Instead of alleging the school violated Title IX provisions that ban discrimination in federally funded education programs—which lawyers for several other cases of this nature have alleged—David and Hannah Edwards argue that Nova Classical Academy’s treatment of their child violated St. Paul’s human rights ordinance (Section 183.05).
Specifically, the complaint alleges the school failed to protect the Edwardses’ child from “gender-based bullying and hostility” because school leadership “stopped staff” from adding the book “My Princess Boy” to its anti-bullying curriculum.
The Edwardses’ complaint goes on to say the school denied their child’s right to undergo a gender transition “in a safe and timely way.” It reads:
In a meeting that evening, we were told that the school was not willing to use effective materials like ‘I Am Jazz;’ would not ever conduct gender education, whether proactive or corrective, without first introducing delay and inviting or encouraging families to ‘opt out;’ and would not even—as a bare minimum—simply inform our child’s classmates of her preferred name and pronouns, without first delaying for days and inviting or encouraging families to ‘opt out’ of this information.
“As a result of these violations,” the Edwardses wrote, “we were forced to withdraw her from Nova.”
“I Am Jazz” is a reality TV show about a transgender girl named Jazz Jennings, 15, who was born male and went public as identifying as female at age 6.
The Daily Signal sought comment and additional details from Gender Justice, but it has not responded to emails and calls.
A spokesman for the city’s Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity said he could not comment because the couple’s complaint is part of an active investigation.
The Edwardses aren’t alone in leaving the school over their child’s case. In February, The Daily Signal reported that at least 10 parents transferred their children to different schools because of “nonconformity issues,” saying the school’s plan to adopt a gender inclusion policy for elementary-age students was too far-reaching.
Since then, The Daily Signal has learned that more parents have taken their children out of Nova Classical Academy, and more plan to by year’s end.
“It’s too bad the family didn’t stay,” one mother who removed all her children from the school said of the Edwardses. “The school has proceeded in changing school policy just as the family requested and has lost and continues to lose many of the original families that actually came to the school for classical education.”
“My personal feeling is that the school has given the other side everything that they want,” another parent involved in the events at Nova Classical Academy told The Daily Signal, adding:
Furthermore, if we had not fought back, I think they would have implemented all of this already. I feel like the school wanted to make sure they followed all of their bylaws so that they didn’t get sued. Also they know a lot of parents are unhappy so they have taken their time and are going through the processes. But in the end they were going to implement all of the asked-for policies. To me, the other side is getting everything they wanted, just not when they wanted it, which is right away.
Because of the sensitive nature of this issue, the parents requested that their names not be published.
Eric Williams, executive director of Nova Classical Academy, confirmed to The Daily Signal that the school is in the process of developing a “specific policy to assure our school is welcoming to students, regardless of gender identity or gender expression.”
“The board is moving deliberately to assure that we get it right,” Williams said in an email. “We expect to adopt a policy next month [in May].”
That policy won’t come easy. Parents concerned over coming changes say the policy—and the process the school has used to get there—tramples on their First Amendment rights to free speech, religion, and association.
“The policy itself is everything and more that the Edwards family was asking for,” the second parent said, adding:
As regards explicit mention of the First Amendment, it has been decided for the purposes of this policy that they will not include anything about that, as all relevant First Amendment protections are listed in other parts of law and policy. It is the perception of many that they are doing this to err on the side of transgender students when it comes to what may be unsettled law regarding addressing people by their preferred names and pronouns in schools.
‘Not a Negotiation Process’
Williams, the head of Nova Classical Academy, told The Daily Signal that the school not only won’t tolerate but has a legal obligation to “prohibit” speech by parents, students, or others “that causes another person to be belittled.”
It is because of this attitude that some parents say they have left.
“On the news, [the school will] say, ‘We want to listen to them, parents have sent endless letters, they have come to the board meetings and gave endless comments,’ but there has not been an olive branch offered to parents on this topic,” said the mother who removed her children from Nova Classical Academy over the events.
“So when we saw that there’s not a negotiation process—this is what’s going to happen—I was worried about my kids and I got tired of worrying about my kids.”
The second parent said: “The other side basically didn’t want us to have a voice, calling everything we say hateful or discriminatory or both.”
Williams suggested that a challenge Nova Classical Academy faces is being a public charter school. As such, the school must adhere to its charter, which includes a “long-held commitment to transparent governance.”
Because of this, debate over the school’s proposed gender inclusion policy has been uncomfortably public.
“Transparency allows divergent views to be made public,” Williams said. “We need to protect freedom of expression and we need to protect our students from bullying in school by other students and by anyone else. When it comes to things people say, we don’t always succeed in striking this balance.”