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Christian school that objected to transgender athlete sues Vermont after it’s banned from competing

A Vermont Christian school sues the state for religious discrimination after it withdrew its girls basketball team from playoffs in a refusal to play against a transgender athlete.Ethan Miller/Getty

A Vermont Christian school that withdrew its girls basketball team from a playoff game because a transgender student was playing on the opposing team is suing Vermont for barring it from state tournaments and a state tuition program.

Mid Vermont Christian School of Quechee forfeited the Feb. 21 game, saying it believed that the transgender player jeopardized "the fairness of the game and the safety of our players.”

The executive council of the Vermont Principals’ Association, which governs school sports and activities, ruled in March that Mid Vermont Christian had violated the council’s policies on race, gender, and disability awareness and, therefore, was ineligible to participate in future tournaments.

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The school filed a federal lawsuit in Burlington on Tuesday, saying the Vermont Agency of Education's refusal to designate it as an approved independent school amounted to discrimination against religious schools.

A separate entity, the Vermont State Board of Education, requires independent schools to post on their websites and provide to the board a statement of nondiscrimination that is consistent with the state's public accommodation and fair employment laws, and submit a signed assurance by the head of the school that it complies with the public accommodation law.

If a school is not approved, it cannot participate in Vermont's town tuition program, which pays for students in communities that do not have a public school to attend other public schools or approved private schools of their choice. Approval is also needed for an independent school to have students take college courses through a state program.

“Mid Vermont Christian and its students are being irreparably harmed" by being excluded from the programs, as well as from middle school and high school sports, the lawsuit states.

A spokesman for the state Agency of Education declined to comment when reached by phone on Wednesday. The head of the Vermont Principals’ Association said in an email that the organization had not seen the lawsuit and had no comment at this time.

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In a separate case, the Agency of Education and several school districts last year agreed to pay tuition costs and legal fees to five families to settle two lawsuits challenging the state’s practice of not paying for students whose towns don’t have a public school to attend religious schools.

The two sides agreed to dismiss the lawsuits after the US Supreme Court ruled in June that Maine schools cannot exclude religious schools from a program that offers tuition aid for private education.

In 2020, a divided US Supreme Court ruled in a Montana case that states can’t cut religious schools out of programs that send public money to private education.