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Lawyers for Superior boy threaten legal action over girls-only dance competition policy

The Superior High School dance team, including Kaiden Johnson (second from left), perform during a Spartan football game earlier this season. Johnson, a sophomore, was prevented from competing in a Duluth competition sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League. He’s challenging the MSHSL policy. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)1 / 2
Superior High School sophomore Kaiden Johnson is a member of the Superior High School dance team, but was prevented from competing in a Duluth competition sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League. He’s challenging the MSHSL policy. (Photo courtesy of Pacific Legal Foundation)2 / 2

Lawyers working on behalf of a Superior High School student sent a letter to the Minnesota State High School League on Tuesday demanding that it change its girls-only policy for dance teams, or face legal action.

Sophomore Kaiden Johnson is a member of the Superior High School dance team, but was prevented from competing last winter in a Duluth competition sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League. He was sidelined at the event, while in uniform and preparing to perform.

At that point, Johnson said, he became a spectator and not a competitor.

“I was putting in close to 15 hours a week of practice and when it came to the competitions, I was doing nothing,” he said. “I felt useless.”

Johnson said he’s pursuing a change to the MSHSL policy for himself and others.

What happened to Johnson was “demoralizing,” said Anastasia Boden, an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, a national nonprofit that took on Johnson’s case for free when it learned of his plight.

“There is no reason for saying boys shouldn’t take part in dance except for outdated gender stereotypes,” she said.

The foundation said the exclusion is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection to its citizens.

The MSHSL told the News Tribune that it doesn’t comment on pending or threatened litigation, but its policy says that girls dance teams “may not rise to the level of a gender equity activity for the purpose of Title IX.”

The organization that oversees high school athletics in Wisconsin does not prohibit male students from dance competition.

Johnson was excluded from dancing in all of the routines the team performed in competitions last year, beginning with the team’s first competition held at Superior High School. Although that competition was held in Wisconsin, it had Minnesota judges, Johnson’s mother Miranda Lynch said. He eventually quit the team last year.

Johnson made this year’s team, but Lynch said it will be competing only in Wisconsin because of Minnesota’s policy — despite the closer proximity of Duluth competitions.

The letter to the MSHSL describes Johnson as a competitive dancer for nine years, whose decision to pursue dance led to “years of bullying, teasing and loneliness. Nevertheless, Kaiden persevered because dancing is his passion.”

Johnson said that dance is “a form of self expression” for him that feels “empowering” and that his teammates are “super caring” and supportive of him.

Pacific Legal Foundation said it will challenge the MSHSL policy in court if it doesn’t hear from the organization by Nov. 3. The group said in its letter that it has been in contact with families in Minnesota “who are prepared to stand with Kaiden if MSHSL continues its discriminatory policy.”

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