Is the dispute over a South Texas transgender teen’s yearbook photo a matter of 1. justice and a national petition drive, or 2. a dress code and following grievance procedures? Lawyers for the student and for the La Feria Independent School District disagree.
“The student was never in danger of not being in the yearbook,” said Ivan Perez, a partner in Jones, Galligan, Key & Lozano in Weslaco who represents the school district.
Rather, Perez said, “There was some discussion of dress code issues that have been cleared up, and the district is going to let the photograph the student wanted to use in the yearbook.”
The family of Jeydon Loredo learned in October that Jeydon’s school in the La Feria ISD planned to bar the student’s formal tuxedo picture from the yearbook. The family then contacted the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights group focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. The group launched a nationwide petition calling on the school board to allow the photo in the yearbook and asked Alesdair Ittelson, a Skadden fellow and staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, to represent the teen.
On Nov. 5, Ittelson sent “a guidance letter” to the school board, offering “a little bit of background and the contours of the law to show how the school district could do the right thing,” Itellson said.
Although Ittelson requested that Jeydon’s issue be placed on the Nov. 11 school meeting, it did not appear on the agenda, Ittelson said. So the lawyer, Jeydon and Jeydon’s mother spoke during an unscheduled open-period of the meeting.
But the board issued no determination at the meeting that the photo would appear in the yearbook, Ittelson said.
Ittelson then sent a demand letter to the school district seeking confirmation that the photo would appear.
In that Nov. 13 letter, Ittelson wrote that in a Sept. 30 meeting with the school district’s superintendent, Jeydon’s mother expressed her desire that the teen appear in his formal wear photograph wearing a tuxedo. However, Ittelson wrote, the superintendent explained that “Jeydon’s tuxedo photograph in the La Feria yearbook would offend ‘community standards’ and that Jeydon’s photograph would only be included if he wore stereotypically feminine attire such as a drape or blouse.”
But Ittelson continued in the demand letter: “The Supreme Court of the United States holds that when a policy at a public school discriminates against a person based on their sex, the classification must serve ‘important governmental objectives.’ Here, there is no important governmental objective served by refusing to allow Jeydon’s tuxedo portrait in the La Feria yearbook. By refusing to include Jeydon’s tuxedo photo, LFISD denies Jeydon an opportunity offered to all other boys in the District—the opportunity to be featured in the yearbook in gender-appropriate clothing. This denial is solely because Jeydon does not fit [school district board members'] stereotypes concerning sex and gender. This stands in clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
That letter led to a telephone conference with Perez and a written agreement on Nov. 15, which neither Perez nor Ittelson released.
For his part, Perez said, “I think this was an issue where there was needed some better communication.”
He said the district had in place a formal structure—a grievance procedure—to deal with student’s dress code issues, but Jeydon never invoked the formal process. Jeydon engaged in “informal discussions” Perez said, and then “made an appearance” at the school board meeting.
No action could be taken at that point, according to a statement issued by the school district, due to the restrictions of the Texas Open Meetings Act. The law bars action being taken by public officials on any item that is not posted on an agenda 72 hours before a meeting.
But Perez said district and school officials discussed the matter and the district wanted to be “sensitive to all the needs of its students.” He added, “I can assure you the policy of the school district is nondiscrimination.”
On the evening of Nov. 15, the school district issued a press release stating that Jeydon’s preferred image would be used in the yearbook and emphasizing that, after considering “the facts particular to this matter, the district believes the dress code issue to be resolved.”
On Nov. 18, the Human Rights Campaign issued its own statement. “We’re thrilled Jeydon will be getting the justice he deserves,” wrote Chad Griffin, the group’s president.