14 parents sue school district for affirming kids' transgender identity without consent

A sign outside a classroom taken in 2016.
A sign outside a classroom taken in 2016. | REUTERS/Tami Chappell

A group of 14 parents from eight families have filed a lawsuit against a Wisconsin school district over its policy requiring teachers to call students by their preferred names and pronouns. 

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed the lawsuit in Dane County court against the Madison Metropolitan School District on Tuesday.

Filed on behalf of the group of parents, most of whom are Christian, the lawsuit opposes the school district’s policies that allow children of any age to change their gender identity at school without parental consent. 

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“Madison schools have adopted policies that violate constitutionally recognized parental rights,” WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg said in a statement. “A public school district should not, and cannot, make decisions reserved for parents.”

MMSD adopted a set of guidelines on transgender and nonbinary students in April 2018. The guidelines stipulate that children of any age are allowed to transition to a different gender identity at school.

Although school district policies require parental consent before a student’s name can be officially changed in the system, the policy gives students the ability to have their preferred names and pronouns “affirmed” and used by teachers and students without having to change the official records. 

The affirmation of a student’s preferred name and gender can be done “regardless of parent/guardian permission to change their name and gender in [the district’s] systems.”

The lawsuit claims that the policy goes as far as to prohibit school district employees from notifying parents that their child will have their preferred pronoun and name affirmed at school.

The lawsuit further argues that the school district policy requires teachers and staff to “deceive parents” by using the student’s name and biological pronouns whenever they are around the child’s parents. 

When students express a desire for teachers to use a preferred pronoun, teachers are required under the policy to fill out a “confidential form.”

The policy puts teachers into a position where they must decide whether the child wishing to have his or her gender identity affirmed is receiving support for their gender identity at home, the lawsuit states. 

The lawsuit accuses the school district policy of trying to “evade” a state law giving parents access to all education records by telling teachers to keep the paperwork related to the child’s desire for gender identity affirmation in the teachers' confidential records and “not in student records.”

The lawsuit goes on to contend that there is “significant disagreement within the medical and psychiatric community over how to treat gender dysphoria.”

“Some professionals believe that ‘affirming’ a child’s alternate gender identity too quickly can ‘reinforce’ and ‘solidify’ gender dysphoria that otherwise might resolve itself,” the lawsuit adds, citing a report from Kenneth J. Zucker of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. 

In addition to the health-related issues, some of the parents included in the lawsuit feel that gender identity has a “deep religious significance.” At least 11 of the plaintiffs are Christians who “seek to apply their beliefs to everything they teach their children, including about their sex.”

“These Plaintiffs believe that the two sexes are a core part of God’s intended design for humanity and that the sex each of us is born with is a gift, not an arbitrary imposition,” the lawsuit argues, citing Genesis 1:27, Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6.

WILL sent a demand letter to the school district’s interim general legal counsel Sherry Terrell-Webb on Dec. 17, 2019, asking the school district to halt the policies.

“A long line of cases from both the United States Supreme Court and the Wisconsin Supreme Court establishes that parents have a constitutional right under the due process clauses of the state and federal constitutions ‘to direct the upbringing and education of [their] children,’” the letter reads.  

MMSD Public Information Officer Tim LeMonds told The Christian Post in an email that the school district has not yet been served with the lawsuit and can’t comment until it has had the opportunity to review the lawsuit’s claims. 

“MMSD prioritizes working in collaboration with families to support our students and it is always our preferred method of support,” LeMonds wrote.  

“MMSD must also prioritize the safety and well-being of every individual student who walks through its doors each day. It is with this focus, the district stands by its guidance document on transgender and nonbinary students, and recognizes its tremendous responsibility to uphold the right of every child to be educated in a safe, all-inclusive and nondiscriminatory learning environment.”

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