Middle school girls banned from competing after protesting trans player receive huge legal win

The West Virginia middle school girls who were banned from competing for refusing to compete against a transgender player have temporarily won their lawsuit.

Judge Thomas A. Bedell on Thursday granted a preliminary injunction allowing the girls to continue competing until the end of the season, regardless of their refusal.

The case hinged on whether an unwritten “scratch rule” by Lincoln Middle School track coach Dawn Riestenberg could be enforced.

“According to Riestenberg, if a student opted out of participating in an event voluntarily, they wouldn’t be allowed to compete in that same event at the next meet,” local station WDTV notes.

As previously reported, five Lincoln Middle School girls refused to compete against a transgender athlete during a shot put competition. Afterward, they were banned from competing for the season.

The problem is that Riestenberg’s “scratch rule” was never written down. The coach merely told athletes of it at the beginning of the season, or so she claimed. Two students who testified disputed that she ever even did this much.

Meanwhile, a lawyer with the Harrison County Board of Education argued that the students’ free speech rights weren’t curtailed by the “scratch rule.”

“Multiple people testified that there were other forms of protesting the issue of transgender athletes in sports throughout the season,” according to WDTV.

For example, school principal Lori Scott and a student both testified that multiple Lincoln Middle School students had worn “SWS” (“save women’s sports”) shirts at meets without issue.

“The only reason, the BOE’s lawyer argued that the students were not allowed to participate in the next meet was because they violated their coach’s scratch rule,” WDTV notes.

Ultimately, Judge Bedell said that both sides had a point but decided to grant a preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs anyway, much to the joy of women’s activists like Riley Gaines:

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who’d filed an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit, was pleased.

“I want to say to these students and their parents: I have your backs,” he said in a statement. “You saw unfairness and you expressed your disappointment and sacrificed your personal performances in a sport that you love; exercised your constitutionally protected freedom of speech and expression.”

“These girls didn’t disrupt anything when they protested. They should be commended, not punished. We need to teach them that it is noble to stand firm in their beliefs and address their grievances within the protections guaranteed by our constitution. They need not to be silent. They have won by having their voices heard. So glad we were able to weigh in on behalf of these courageous young girls and that they are able to play,” he added.

The Harrison County Board of Education, on the other hand, was not pleased, according to The State Journal.

“The Harrison County Board of Education strongly denies any form of retaliation against the Lincoln Middle School students who voluntarily chose to scratch from an event at the Harrison County Middle School Championship Track Meet,” the board said in a statement. “The students were permitted to engage in their selected form of protest without issue. In fact, the coaches and principal were aware of the likelihood of the protests and permitted the students to remain on the roster for their events.”

“Those students, like all of the other students on the team, however, were subject to a team rule that any player who scratches in an event cannot participate in that event at the next track meet. This neutral, school-specific rule was in place before the students’ protests and has nothing to do with those protests in any way. Other than not being permitted to participate in the same event in which they scratched at the next track meet, the students have competed in track meets and events following their protests without restriction,” they added.

Vivek Saxena

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