8-year-old Nikki Shah-Brar and her parents, Priya Shah and Jaspret Brar, are suing her California private school for discrimination. Shah-Brar came out as transgender to her parents in June 2016, right before her seventh birthday.
When her parents informed her school, they faced barriers regarding Shah-Brar expressing her gender identity. The school in question is Heritage Oak Private Education.
‘They said that we could grow her hair out,’ Brar told BuzzFeed News in a report. ‘But they said no girls bathroom, no female pronouns, no girls name, and no girls uniform.’
The family filed a lawsuit against Heritage Oak and its parent company, Nobel Learning Communities, for illegally discriminating against Shah-Brar based on her gender identity. The family filed the lawsuit on Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court.
In February, Shah-Brar withdrew from the school after facing bullying from other students. Her mother commented they would not have done this if her daughter didn’t support it. ‘This was a family decision,’ Shah said. ‘We thought we had to stand up for our child who was standing up for who she was. This is not something we do lightly.’
Violating California law
On Heritage Oak’s website, they describe their philosophy ‘is to develop the whole child’.
Their website continues: ‘Heritage Oak students are provided with a warm, nurturing environment which promotes student responsibility, cooperation, high-level thinking, creativity and the respect for individual differences.’
According to BuzzFeed’s report, school officials declared in January 2017 Shah-Brar could not transition. Her parents informed the school prior to Shah-Brar beginning second grade and planned for a transition in third grade.
‘Heritage Oak and Nobel Learning Communities exhibited reckless disregard for the emotional distress it would cause her, and engaged in the intentional infliction of emotional distress in violation of California common law,’ the suit alleges.
The law in question is California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits businesses from discriminating based on gender identity. Based on the school’s claim of allowing ‘respect of individual differences’ and so forth, the suit alleges the school violated portions of the California Business and Professions Code as well. This code bans fraudulent practices and misleading advertisements.
‘We strive to meet the needs and wellbeing of all children’
Gay Star News reached out to Heritage Oak and Nobel Learning for comment. They released the following statement:
‘We strive to meet the needs and wellbeing of all children in our schools, and have been able to accommodate the needs of other transgender students in older grades at Nobel Learning Community schools without incident.
‘We were mindful in this instance of the need to support not just this 7-year-old, but other young children. We believed it was extremely important to respond, not hastily, but with deliberate care, to decide when and how to inform and educate our entire elementary school community of students, staff and parents about the mid-year change of gender identity expression of a young child. Due to the sensitivity of the issue and age of the child, we believed we needed expert guidance regarding timing (such as, preparing children for a change they would see in spring semester of second grade and fall semester of third grade), process and age-appropriate communication.
‘We told the family we had decided to retain an outside consultant to assist us, and we were communicating with the family on a consistent basis to discuss potential experts and specific accommodations (in addition to the other accommodations we had already offered, such as use of the single-unit staff bathroom, specific options as to girl’s uniform clothing and girl’s hairstyle, as well as ceasing to use gender groupings in physical education activities). Unfortunately, these accommodations were rejected and the parents withdrew their child.’
Precious situation for transgender students in school
Under the Obama administration, there was large support for Title IX. This portion of 1972’s Education Amendments Act states no school can discriminate on the basis of sex.
The administration supported multiple cases of transgender discrimination in schools.
Now, however, there is a reversal of this policy. Donald Trump’s administration is backing away from protecting trans students’ rights. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released new guidelines in June, which allows certain complaints, such as bathroom rights, to be dismissed without investigation.