A 13-year-old transgender girl in New Jersey was told she can’t return to school this fall dressed as a girl.
A Thorne Middle School official allegedly told Rachel Pepe, born Brian Pepe, if she returns to school she must be dressed as a boy and prepared to act like boy.
Her mother Angela Peters says the school will not accommodate her daughter and will not give her any out-of-district educational options.
"He was going to school last year as Brian," Peters told USA Today. "How can I send her back as Rachel? And I am not sending her back as Brian because the depression will start again."
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Peters says her daughter developed stress-related seizures, depression and panic attacks during that time. She says Rachel was bullied by her classmates for being a quiet student.
"She would get off the bus and just cry," Peters said. "Then she would go to sleep for 17 or 20 hours and refuse to go back there."
Rachel says her gender identity was realized “just recently” and the name Rachel “just came to me. It just fits.”
"I sort of felt something was missing, that something was wrong," she said.
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The school, however, says it is not equipped to accommodate her.
They said staff would have to call her Brian because that’s the name on her birth certificate – although many students have nicknames. Officials allegedly said Rachel would upset the school’s boy-girl ratio and that standardized test would require her legal name and gender.
"I said, 'What about letting her go to the bathroom in the nurse's office?'" Peters said.
That idea was rejected.
The New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Funds says this kind of treatment isn’t new.
"Certainly the family has legal avenues if they wish to pursue them," said Michael Silverman of TLDEF. "The family would have a strong case against discrimination."
The Middletown Schools Superintendent William O. George says he wants to work with Rachel’s mother to resolve the issue.
"We as a district want to do everything we can as a district," said George. "Every child is different and their education and social and emotional well being is my priority. We will work with them to find the appropriate placement."
"I support this without interviewing this child. It certainly is reasonable. Children with psycho-sexual issues often benefit from a fresh start at a new school," he said.
Image screenshot: USA Today