Nicole Brar attended Heritage Oak Private Education in Yorba Linda until it became apparent they had irreconcilable differences.
The school would not allow Nikki to dress as a girl, to use the girl's restroom, or to be referred to by female pronouns.
Nikki's parents, Priya Shah and Jaspret Brar are suing the school, alleging that the school violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, 'a California law that outlaws a broad range of discrimination, including by sex or sexual orientation, and that it fraudulently advertised itself as nondiscriminatory and focused on the “whole child.”'
This is the first [transgender rights] case to use a state anti-discrimination law as one of the grounds for relief.
In light of the Trump administration’s inaction on taking a stand against discrimination against trans individuals … this is a terribly important case.
--Mark Rosenbaum, Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law
Hopefully this will lead to a larger conversation about what schools need to do to serve transgender students. They have to create a private school environment that’s safe and supportive for all students.
--Asaf Orr, National Center for Lesbian Rights
The lawsuit names Heritage Oak and its executive director Phyllis Cygan, as well as the school’s parent group, Nobel Learning Communities, which is headquartered in Pennsylvania, and its regional director, Kate Taylor.
We believed it was extremely important to respond, not hastily, but with deliberate care, to decide when and how to inform and educate our entire elementary school community of students, staff and parents about the mid-year change of gender identity expression of a young child. Due to the sensitivity of the issue and age of the child, we believed we needed expert guidance regarding timing (such as, preparing children for a change they would see in spring semester of second grade and fall semester of third grade), process and age-appropriate communication.
--Kerry Owens, vice president of MGH advertising
When Nikki was 4, she told her parents she was a girl. They told Nikki that gender was a spectrum, like hot and cold water, that she could be any kind of boy she wanted to be.
But just before she turned 7, in June 2016, Nikki said, “I want to be called a girl.” Her parents took her to a therapist focused on gender.
Nikki’s parents decided to send her to Heritage Oak in part because it advertised itself as a nondiscriminatory community that valued diversity and focused on children’s individual needs. “The school teaches third-grade curriculum in the second grade, which we believed would keep our child challenged and engaged,” Shah said. “We envisioned our child growing both intellectually and socially.”
Nikki began transitioning at home when the school year began, but presented as a boy at school.
But before she arrived at Heritage Oak, her parents told the school’s executive director what was happening and asked that Nikki be treated as a girl if that’s what she ended up wanting. According to the complaint, Cygan deferred a decision.
By November, Nikki’s parents got the sense that Nikki would fully transition socially, spokesman Manny Rivera said. Again, they asked that the school accept her choice: that it let her use her chosen pronouns, wear a girl’s uniform and go to the girls’ bathroom — either that school year or the next one. Cygan allegedly did not answer their demands, except to say that she would allow Nikki to grow her hair.
By winter break in December, Nikki’s transition had solidified. In January, the school insisted that Nikki wear the boy’s uniform. The school said she would have access to a staff bathroom, but she couldn’t go to the bathroom used by her female classmates. Cygan declined their other demands, calling the school a “conservative institution” in which Nikki’s transition would “create an imbalance,” the complaint says.
According to the complaint, the school’s disregard of Nikki’s gender preference empowered her peers — including Cygan’s son — to bully her and call her a loser.
One day, Nikki heard a report about suicide on the radio, according to the lawsuit. She asked her parents if she could “suicide herself” because “life is really hard.”
Nikki left her school in February 2017, and her mother left a teaching job in order to home-school her.
Nikki will begin attending a public school this year.