A federal appeals court has ruled that public school students are not entitled to an expectation of personal privacy in a school’s restrooms, shower rooms, and locker room facilities. A three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a policy adopted by the Boyertown School District in Pennsylvania which allows students to access the private facilities of their choosing.The appeals court panel ruled that the school district’s open bathroom policy did not infringe on a student’s right to “bodily privacy” and would not cause students irreparable harm. In an extremely unusual and suspect move, the appeals court judges issued their decision within minutes of hearing oral arguments from each side in the case.
The lawsuit was brought by a group of four students at Boyertown High School, which is located northwest of Philadelphia. One of those students is Alexis Lightcap, who encountered a boy in the girls’ bathroom during her junior year of high school.”When I saw this boy in the girls’ bathroom, I froze and I was scared,” Lightcap explains. “The girls bathroom has always been the girls’ getaway place–a place for privacy and refuge, a place to be away from boys, not a place to meet boys.”
“I told a teacher and the principal,” Lightcap said. “I thought it was their duty to make sure kids are safe, and to see that our rights are protected at school. I was sure they would tell the boy it was wrong for him to be in the girls’ bathroom, but they didn’t.” “They said this is the way things are going to be. Instead of listening to my concerns, they made me feel like I was the problem for feeling uncomfortable, unsafe, and vulnerable with a boy in our bathroom. We were told to make it feel as ‘natural’ as possible. How natural would you feel if you have someone of the opposite sex standing next to you while you change clothes or use the bathroom?”
“I come from a broken home,” Lightcap observed. “My adoptive parents taught me to think for myself and speak for myself. That came in handy when we moved to Boyertown, where black children like me were pretty few and far between, but racial slurs were not. I know what it’s like to be different. But I do have trouble with a policy that says anyone who’s in an opposite-sex mood today can stroll in to the girls’ bathroom and observe me in my intimate moments.”
Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, says the decision is out of step with longstanding legal protections for privacy. “School officials have a duty to protect the privacy and dignity of all students. Our laws and customs have consistently recognized the rights of privacy, and there is no legal mandate that every student in the district give up these rights.” “The Supreme Court has already spoken: The real differences between men and women mean that privacy must be protected where it really counts, and that certainly includes high school locker rooms and restrooms. We will continue advocating for these young students.”