New Hampshire court hears argument on school district’s transgender student policy

2016
Young girl sitting in front of a laptop doing school work
Photo by Steven Weirather from Pixabay

The New Hampshire state Supreme Court heard oral arguments on April 27 in Doe v. Manchester School District, regarding the district’s policy of providing support for transgender students. That policy includes referring to students by their requested names and pronouns and maintaining student privacy when appropriate. 

Bill SB 272 up for debate

Doe v. Manchester School District is in the courts as the New Hampshire House prepares to vote on SB 272, a bill that would require public schools in New Hampshire to surveil and track information about transgender and gender nonconforming students and to report that information to parents without regard to the student’s circumstances. The case is before the state’s high court on appeal from a lower court ruling which upheld the policy, finding it to be in line with state and federal constitutional requirements and state and federal law.

“By maintaining a policy of affirming and supporting transgender students, the Manchester district is meeting its obligation to provide a safe and welcoming educational environment for all students,” Chris Erchull, Attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders said. “New Hampshire’s public schools work in partnership with parents but forcing schools to disclose information against a student’s wishes takes away a trusted source of support from transgender and gender nonconforming students and inserts the school into family life in a manner that shuts down the opportunity for an important conversation between the child and parent.”

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the ACLU of New Hampshire submitted a brief to the Court highlighting the vital educational interests served by the Manchester School District’s policy of supporting and affirming the gender identity of students at school. The brief cites substantial research showing that a positive school climate that fosters a sense of safety, belonging, and respect is optimal for learning and has deep and long-lasting effects for every child who experiences it. 

GLAD and ACLU-NH’s friend-of-the-court brief also cautions against reversing public schools’ long-understood discretion in disclosing information about student identity exploration and underscores how a bright-line ruling mandating that schools “out” transgender students to parents without regard to the student’s circumstances would inappropriately and sometimes harmfully insert schools into parent-child relationships. Such a mandate would also deter students from seeking support and sharing information at school, and would negatively impact the learning environment of all students. 

“No one should be forcibly outed”

“LGBTQ+ students in the Granite State should not have to fear being themselves at school and deserve to be able to talk about their identities with their parents when they are ready,” said Henry Klementowicz, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of New Hampshire. “Removing the Manchester School District’s current affirming policy would create an environment where LGBTQ+ students don’t feel safe being who they are — and in school, they should feel safe, cared for, and able to learn to the best of their ability. No one should be forcibly outed, and the Granite State must support students by protecting their rights to free expression and privacy.”

Among those joining GLAD and the ACLU-NH on their brief to the state Supreme Court in support of the Manchester district’s policy were three Directors of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for New Hampshire public schools in their individual capacities, as well as Heather Romeri and her son Nico, a New Hampshire high school student.

“Of course I want my child to feel he can talk to me about anything, but above all I want him to feel safe and happy,” Heather Romeri said. “I understand that he needed to be able to talk about what he was going through with others before he came to me, and I’m so glad he had that chance, just as I am glad that he had the chance to see how much his family loves and supports him once he was ready to come to us.”

Her son agreed. Nico Romeri explained how the school’s decision to maintain his privacy about his identity prevented his life from becoming more challenging.  

“It was important for me to have the support of other people I could trust to help me feel ready to talk to my parents, especially people who could help make it easier for me to talk to my mom,” he said. “Transgender students want the same opportunity to learn and be ourselves, just like any kid, without having to worry that adults at school will violate our trust. If someone had decided to tell my mom what they thought about my gender, it would have made things so much harder for me at school and at home.”