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Secular Schools in Five States Must Accommodate Gender Dysphoria Under Americans with Disabilities Act

A federal Court of Appeals has ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act covers gender dysphoria. The ruling governs Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Although the facts of this particular case dealt with the rights of a transgender woman in the Virginia prison system, the ruling will extend to every entity subject to the ADA, including schools, camps, and child care centers. Programs that are religious entities or run by religious entities will still be exempt.

Although this ruling applies only in the Fourth Circuit, covering the states listed above, it is the first ruling on this issue at the appellate level. As such, it may represent a trend that schools need to watch. It also is difficult to predict what reasonable accommodations in the school setting will look like. Schools will still have to weigh the privacy rights of other students, and the calculus may be different based on the age of the students involved. As with all disabilities under the ADA, schools and child care centers in the affected states must make an individual calculation based on the specific facts of each specific situation.

In a majority opinion issued by a three-judge panel with the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the court wrote, "In light of the 'basic promise of equality ... that animates the ADA,' we see no legitimate reason why Congress would intend to exclude from the ADA's protections transgender people who suffer from gender dysphoria."


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