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Buffalo schools to pay $200,000 in discrimination lawsuit settlement

By: - June 30, 2021 1:51 pm

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The Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District will pay more than $200,000 to the family of a former student and change its gender identity policies in a settlement of a discrimination lawsuit, the legal nonprofit Gender Justice announced Wednesday.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of former student Matt Woods by his mother in 2019, alleges the school system violated several provisions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the state constitution. The district required Woods, who is transgender, to exclusively use a single restroom not used by other students; sometimes locked that restroom so Woods had no access; removed him from gym classes; and isolated him from other students, the lawsuit says.

“It’s a relief to have this over, and I’m very happy with the outcome,” Woods, now 17, said during a news conference. “I’m glad there could be gender-affirming policies put into place so no one has to go through what I went through.”

The news comes just months after the Anoka-Hennepin school district agreed to pay $300,000 and change its policies in a settlement of another discrimination lawsuit filed by a transgender student who had to use a single-occupancy changing room for swimming practices and gym class.

Despite the legal victories, trans students still face a difficult political atmosphere. Bills aimed at prohibiting trans student athletes from playing on teams aligned with their gender were introduced in more than 30 states this year, including Minnesota. At least 20 states also considered bills to restrict medical care for transgender people. 

By the start of the 2021-22 school year, the Buffalo school district will implement policies allowing transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming students to use restrooms and play on sports teams aligned with their gender, according to Gender Justice, which represented Woods’ mother in the case.

In addition, school officials will have to refer to students with the correct names and pronouns, and ensure there’s no tolerance for bullying or discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.

The school’s treatment of Woods caused him stress and anxiety, and he was hospitalized multiple times for depression and self-harm starting at age 11, according to the lawsuit. Woods missed weeks of school as a result of his declining mental health, the suit says, and his mother withdrew him from school over concerns about his well-being and enrolled him in a private school in 2017.

Woods said Wednesday he enjoys the arts and spending time outside, and hopes to be a tattoo artist one day. He’s still recovering from his experience in the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District, he said.

“It’s like two years of my education were stolen from me, and I’m still catching up on that,” Woods said. “Gender-affirming policies will save lives.”

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.

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