Nova Academy: Forced to Conform?

State Condemns Nova Academy's Transgender Policy

ST. PAUL, Minn- Parents of a transgender student can now sue the Nova Classical Academy on grounds of discrimination according to the St. Paul Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity.  

The parents, David and Hannah Edwardses, entered their gender nonconforming student (then identifying as a boy) into Nova Academy during the 2015-2016 school year. During this period, their student underwent a social gender transition, now fully identifying as a girl. Throughout her time at Nova Academy, the student was bullied frequently by other students the parents claim.

In order to accommodate this change, the Edwardses asked that the school add into their curriculum during anti-bullying month in October 2015, a book called My Princess Boy, which centers around a boy who likes to do traditionally feminine things, such as wear dresses. In addition, the school informed parents via email that they would be taking steps during the month to “support a student who is gender nonconforming.” Students would, “listen to various books that celebrate differences and will be teaching children about the beauty of being themselves.

Some parents voiced concerns about their young children being introduced to the idea of ‘being transgender’ at a young age. Originally, it had been decided that the topic of transgenderism would be discussed in 10th grade.

Nova Classical Academy is a public charter school. The school is unique in that it has a waiver which allows its school board to be comprised primarily of parents instead of educators, which provides parents the opportunity to have greater oversight in the curriculum. Some claim that the Edwardses attempted to bypass this process when they asked the school administration to introduce My Princess Boy and discussion on ‘being transgender’ into the kindergarten curriculum. School administrators point to legal obligations as to why they went forward with implementing the Edwardses request. Two statutes in particular are Minnesota’s 2014 anti-bullying law and Title IX.

Eventually the situation turned quite hostile, with many outside groups, including Gender Justice and Transforming Families taking a huge stake in the issue and hijacking school board meetings, in order to push a ‘progressive’ gender narrative. The school ended up not reading the book or implementing the policies that the Edwardses wanted implemented. The Edwardses took their child out of Nova Academy.

In March 2016, the Edwardses filed a charge of discrimination against Nova Academy, claiming that the “our child’s right to equal educational opportunity in two ways: (1) by failing to protect her and other gender-nonconforming or transgender students at Nova from persistent gender-based bullying and hostility, and (2) by denying her the ability to undergo a gender transition at Nova in a safe and timely way.”

In their first claim, the Edwardses criticized the school for failing,“to take a clear position on the rights of gender-nonconforming and transgender students, the leadership refused outright or introduced delay after delay, while the bullying and hostility continued unabated.”

The Edwardses also took issue with the school,“expressly inviting or even encouraging families to “opt out” of any education about gender and gender equality law – which indicated that the school was at best ambivalent about the rights of gender-nonconforming and transgender students.”

In their second claim, that the school denied their student the ability to undergo a gender transition, the Edwardses point to the school administration’s response, that they “would not ever conduct gender education, whether proactive or corrective, without first introducing delay and inviting or encouraging families to ‘opt out’[…..nor] would they inform our child’s classmates of her preferred name and pronouns, without first delaying for days and inviting or encouraging families to opt out.”

After an investigation and “preponderance of the evidence” by the deputy director of the St. Paul Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity, Jeffry Martin, stated there may be grounds for a lawsuit against Nova Classical Academy.

“After the letter was sent, [Nova] failed to carry on with reading of the book,” Martin said in the report. “[Nova] should have taken reasonable efforts to address the pushbacks and proceed with their course of action.”

Martin, condemned the fact that the school outed the Edwardses’ student during the deliberation process, stating that it opened them “to public scrutiny, backlash and even threats.”

However, Martin indicated that what opened the school up to the most scrutiny was that “they invited parents and students to ‘opt out’ of instructional materials on any gender inclusiveness education or activities at the school.”

In Martin’s opinion, the “opt-out provision implicitly allowed parents, community members and students to object to the (Edwardses’) request to be treated equally and fairly.”

As of now the Edwardses have yet to file a lawsuit against Nova Academy.

Henry Carras