School Opens Cheerleading Tryouts to All Students

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

Mount Vernon High School has opened its formerly all-female cheerleading squad to all students, regardless of gender, after the ACLU intervened on behalf of a male transgender student who was denied a full opportunity to participate.

The school changed policies in early July, after a brief correspondence with the ACLU that explained laws about access to school activities. Under the new rules, all students will be allowed to try out for the non-competitive cheerleading squad.

“We are pleased that Mount Vernon High School will treat students of all genders fairly, whether it deals with a school chess club, a sports team, or in this case, a cheerleading squad,” said ACLU Legal Director Sarah Dunne, who worked with the district to change its policies.

In April 2007, freshman Jai Johnson-Baker sought to try out for the Mount Vernon cheerleading squad. Johnson-Baker, who is a male transgender student, was at first denied the chance, because school officials said that the cheerleading squad was a girls-only activity. He was eventually allowed to try out at the last minute, but told that if he was accepted, his participation would depend on what rules the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association might implement regarding transgender students. Johnson-Baker did not make the squad.

Ironically, Mount Vernon school officials maintained that they could restrict the cheerleading squad to only females in order to comply with federal and state anti-discrimination laws for schools sports. The ACLU, however, explained that since Mount Vernon’s cheerleading squad is not classified as a competitive team, it would be discriminatory to exclude males from trying out.

“Stated simply, the cheerleading squad constitutes another school-sponsored activity and accordingly should be open to all students regardless of their sex,” Dunne wrote in her letter to school officials.