Transgender Teen Puts Charter School on Notice

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SAN DIEGO (CN) – A 15-year-old transgender student has proved a director of a San Diego charter school correct, claiming that when the school denied her admission, the director told her board to “get ready for another lawsuit.”

N.V. and her mother sued e3 Civic High School, a highly touted charter school housed in downtown San Diego’s new $185 million public library, on Dec. 6 in Superior Court. While the girl sued under her name, Courthouse News is choosing to use her initials because she is a minor.

The 10-page complaint, with 159 pages of exhibits, claims the school violated the state Education Code and Public Records Act. The school and Does 1-20 are the only named defendants, though the lawsuit identifies several administrators by name.

The family’s attorneys said in interviews that they have not filed discrimination claims against the school or its officials, because they want “to give them an opportunity to explain themselves.”

E3 executive director and CEO Helen Griffith said in an email Monday: “℮3 Civic High School has conducted a search and provided all documents that were requested. We are cooperating and are hopeful this matter can be amicably resolved.”

But Pillsbury Winthrop attorney Rich Segal said in an interview that that was not quite correct.

“We sent a letter to the school and they responded with what they claimed was an explanation, but they would not send the documents with the explanation to back it up. We wanted to dot our t’s and cross our i’s before we take their word for it,” Segal said.

N.V. says the school arbitrarily denied her admission as a 10th grade transfer student in October 2015, though she had been being vetted by the school’s academics director, Sheila Krotz.

The charter school opened in 2014 as a high-tech option for high school students from neighborhoods in and near downtown San Diego.

N.V. and her mother were scheduled to meet with Krotz when their appointment was “intervened and co-opted” before Krotz arrived, by Griffith, the family says.

After speaking briefly with them, the mother and daughter say in the complaint, Griffith denied N.V. admission, “claiming there was no space at the school but that petitioner could be placed on a waiting list. On information and belief, e3 admitted a student who was not transgender two days after denying admission to petitioner.”

That very day, they say, Krotz sent an email to the president of the school’s board of directors, saying: “HG [Helen Griffith] just denied enrollment to a student I approved. 10th grade transfer from High Tech High; excellent grades, transgender.

“Get ready for another lawsuit.”

N.V.’s attorneys wrote to the school that it discriminated against her by rejecting her, though it was at least 70 students under capacity. They requested documents on the school’s capacity and enrollment when N.V. applied, and say the school did not provide them.

Griffith said in the email that her school “adamantly denies discriminating against or denying admission to any transgender student. ℮3 Civic High School is committed to providing a positive, supportive educational environment for all individuals and strictly prohibits all forms of discrimination. We feel very confident that it will be proven that at no time did ℮3 discriminate against any student.”

ACLU attorney David Loy said in an interview Monday that Griffith reached out to N.V. and her family to discuss admission to the school, because “she got caught and the family called the board.”

Loy said he is simply doing “due diligence” to get documents, and that since the complaint was filed he has received some, but does not believe everything has been handed over.

“Was there a waiting list or not?” Loy asked. “The paper trail you’d expect to see if the things happened they say happened has not been shared.”

The family seeks writ of mandate requiring e3 to comply with its own charter and the California Public Records Act.

Their attorney include Nathaniel Smith with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw & Pittman, and Loy, with the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

The ACLU has said the charter school appears to have a pattern and practice of discriminating against LGBTQ students.

In 2014, the ACLU sent letters to e3 Civic High and Griffith, complaining that CEO Griffith interfered with the creation of a gay-straight alliance club.

In one letter about the club, called Spectrum, Loy wrote that the state Secretary of Education “strongly supports” establishing such groups at schools.

Loy followed up with another letter to Griffith months later after students complained that she was blocking their club from fund raising and had reprimanded two female students for public affection.

The ACLU has not filed a lawsuit related to the gay-straight alliance club at e3.

Pillsbury Winthrop attorney Rich Segal said in an interview that N.V. has not filed discrimination claims against the school and its administrators because she “wants to give them the opportunity to explain themselves.”