HARTFORD – The ACLU Foundation of Connecticut will represent a Norwalk mother of three in a lawsuit that seeks to uphold the right to breastfeed without restriction in public schools under Connecticut’s civil rights law. In Amanda R. Whitman-Singh v. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and City of Norwalk Board of Education, the Connecticut appellate court will decide whether to uphold a lower court’s decision that the Norwalk Board of Education violated Mandy Whitman-Singh’s rights when a Cranbury Elementary School employee prevented Ms. Whitman-Singh from nursing her younger child during a teacher meeting.
On May 24, 2017, Mandy Whitman-Singh went to Cranbury Elementary School in Norwalk for a meeting with the school’s occupational therapist to discuss one of her children. The meeting was in a classroom divided by a temporary wall, shared with another teacher. During the meeting, Ms. Whitman-Singh began to breastfeed her younger child, when the teacher in the other part of the room told her, “you can’t do that in here.” Ms. Whitman-Singh was too upset and humiliated to continue the meeting and was fearful to breastfeed in public afterward. She met with the school district, which affirmed that its policy was to restrict breastfeeding to a designated location, then filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) stating that the Norwalk Board of Education, the entity in charge of Norwalk schools, had restricted her right to breastfeed.
“I felt shocked and humiliated when a teacher told me I couldn't nurse my youngest child. After that, I was afraid to nurse in public. By asking breastfeeding mothers to move or cover up, Norwalk Public Schools is reinforcing outdated and discriminatory views about breastfeeding. 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,” said Mandy Whitman-Singh.
“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. 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,” said Elana Bildner, ACLU Foundation of Connecticut senior staff attorney.
Connecticut civil rights law states that it is discriminatory for any “place of public accommodation” to “restrict or limit” the right of a person to breastfeed. In court, the City of Norwalk and Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities have argued that public schools are not places of public accommodation, and therefore not subject to Connecticut’s breastfeeding anti-discrimination law. In August, the Connecticut Superior Court sided with Ms. Whitman-Singh, ruling that schools are places of public accommodation and that the Norwalk Board of Education had violated Ms. Whitman-Singh’s right to breastfeed her child by forcing her to cover up, move to a different room or area, or stop.
“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,” wrote Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Klau. “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. The ACLU Foundation of Connecticut has joined the case to represent Ms. Whitman-Singh.
For more information about Amanda R. Whitman-Singh v. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and City of Norwalk Board of Education.