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Civil Rights Complaint Filed Over Northern Wisconsin Teen Barred From Dance Competitions

Nonprofit Legal Foundation: Minnesota State High School League Policy Violates Title IX

Kaiden Johnson
Photo courtesy of the Pacific Legal Foundation

A nonprofit legal foundation has filed a civil rights complaint against the Minnesota State High School League after it barred a northern Wisconsin teen last year from taking part in dance competitions because of his gender.

Kaiden Johnson, then a Superior High School freshman, wasn’t allowed to compete in the league’s dance competitions because its policy only allows girls to compete.

Joshua Thompson, senior attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, said they’ve asked the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the league’s policy.

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“We believe that this violates Title IX of the Civil Rights Act and that they should order the Minnesota State High School League to stop its discriminating policy,” Thompson said.

Last month, the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents Johnson, now a sophomore, and his mother Miranda Lynch, gave the league until Nov. 3 to rescind its policy or face a potential court challenge, which has yet to be filed.

The Minnesota State High School League told FOX 21 in Duluth earlier this year the policy was meant to protect opportunities for girls under Title IX. However, Thompson said the league’s bylaws don’t define dance as a girls sport that could satisfy the Title IX gender equity law.

“The Minnesota State High School League specifically disavowed that reason for what they’re doing, so the only other explanation that we can think of is that they just simply think that boys should not be competing in dance and that dance is a girls sport,” Thompson said. “That is precisely what Title IX is designed to prevent. It’s designed to prevent intentional discrimination.”

Thompson said within the next month they’ll likely file a complaint in federal court stating the league is violating Johnson’s constitutional rights.

Johnson’s high school dance team is no longer competing in the Lake Superior Conference. The conference includes teams from northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. Despite some competitions that took place in Wisconsin, those events included Minnesota judges that prevented Johnson from competing based on the league’s policy. With the switch in conferences, Johnson can take part in dance competitions against Wisconsin teams.

Johnson said in an interview on WPR’s “Hear Me Out” that his team is preparing to put in more practice time and more hours on the road to compete against Wisconsin teams.

“It’s upsetting to know that because of a male that the whole team has to get punished for it,” Johnson said.

A spokesman with the Minnesota State High School League said they don’t comment on threatened litigation.

A U.S. Department of Education spokesman said the Office of Civil Rights does not currently have an active investigation into the Minnesota State High School League, adding the office typically doesn’t acknowledge complaints until they’re accepted for investigation.

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