The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a Virginia school system violated the civil rights of ACLU client Gavin Grimm when school officials barred him from using the boy’s restroom and refused to update his school records to match his gender identity.

That ruling is also binding on West Virginia. Today, as learning resumes across the state, ACLU-WV Executive Director Joseph Cohen is writing to all 55 county schools systems to inform them that ruling must be followed.

In the letter, Cohen explains that the Fourth Circuit ruling applies to all public schools in the state and many private schools as well.

“As such, many West Virginia school districts must immediately change their policies and practices in order to comply with law,” the letter states.

The ruling said that discrimination based on a students’ sexual orientation or gender identity is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

LGBTQ students in West Virginia may update their official records to reflect their correct names, form Gay-Straight Alliances (sometimes also called Gender-Sexuality Alliances), dress in accordance with their gender identity and be protected from harassment and discrimination, Cohen said.

According to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA, West Virginia has the highest percentage of trans-identifying teenagers in the country. Cohen also pointed out that LGBTQ students who experience stigma and discrimination are more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide. For many LGBTQ young people, the only supportive adult in their life is a teacher or a principal.

“We know that kids who feel safe and welcome at school engage in less risky behaviors, have improved mental health, and do better academically,” the letter states. “Instituting affirming policies are not only required by law, they simply make schools better.”

We will continue to monitor West Virginia’s schools going forward to ensure they are complying with the law and protecting students from harm.