The ACLU of Connecticut announced on Thursday that it will be representing Mandy Whitman-Singh, a Norwalk mother of three, in a lawsuit over whether the Norwalk Board of Education violated her rights when an employee prevented Whitman-Singh from nursing her child during a teacher meeting.
The case stems from an incident in May 2017 when Whitman-Singh attended a meeting with a school therapist concerning one of her children at Cranberry Elementary School in Norwalk. During the meeting, when Whitman-Singh began to breastfeed her younger child, a teacher told her “you can’t do that in here,” according to the lawsuit. After the meeting was moved to another room, Whitman-Singh was too upset and humiliated to continue with the meeting.
“By asking breastfeeding mothers to move or cover up, Norwalk Public Schools is reinforcing outdated and discriminatory views about breastfeeding,” Whitman-Singh said. “This is degrading to the mother, it discourages breastfeeding, and it prevents breastfeeding mothers from being full participants in society if they have to hide or fear being shamed every time they need to breastfeed.”
After complaining to the school’s principal, Whitman-Singh filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). Although the hearing officer did not provide an explanation as to why, the CHRO found that the facts found did not constitute a violation of Whitman-Singh’s rights. After a failed attempt to get the Commission to reconsider her complaint, Whitman-Singh appealed to the Courts.
In late August, Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Klau reversed CHRO’s decision and returned the case to CHRO for further proceedings.
“Public schools exist to offer their educational services to the public. That they do so for students in kindergarten through grade 12 does not undercut their status as places of public accommodation,” Judge Klau wrote in his decision. “It is difficult to imagine [the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities] not finding probable cause under the statute if a school told a person of color, a transgender person or a gay or lesbian couple holding hands during a meeting, ‘you can’t do that in here.’”
In September, the City of Norwalk appealed the Superior Court’s decision. Now the ACLU has joined the case to represent Whitman-Singh and uphold the lower court’s decision.
“Breastfeeding is a fundamental right, and nursing parents should be able to feed their children without fear. No parent should have to worry about being discriminated against in their kid’s school,” Elana Bildner, ACLU Foundation of Connecticut senior staff attorney, said. “We will keep fighting to ensure that Connecticut’s civil rights laws, including the right to breastfeed without being forced to cover up or move along, apply in public schools and public places throughout the state.”
Connecticut law protects a mother’s right to breastfeed in any public place and it is against the law to prevent someone from breastfeeding or ask them to move or cover-up.