Parents’ lawsuit claims school secretly helped kids adopt new gender identities

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

Two pairs of parents are suing the staff of a Massachusetts middle school for allegedly encouraging their children to adopt new gender identities without their knowledge or consent. 

Stephen Foote and Marissa Silvestri, alongside Jonathan Feliciano and Sandra Salmeron, filed the lawsuit on April 12 in a Massachusetts federal district court with the help of the Child and Parental Rights Campaign and the Massachusetts Family Institute. The organizations help parents navigate issues surrounding gender identity and parental rights. 

Several school officials at Baird Middle School are named defendants in the lawsuit, including Interim Superintendent Lisa Nemeth, former Superintendent Todd Gazda, Baird Middle School Principal Stacy Monette, school counselor Marie-Claire Foley and former librarian Jordan Funke. 

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Ludlow Public Schools Interim Superintendent Lisa Nemeth did not immediately respond to The Christian Post’s request for comment.

Foote and Silvestri claim that they were unaware of the “transitioning” of their young son and daughter, referred to as G.F. and B.F., respectively, in the filing. They say they became aware after their daughter’s teacher, Bonnie Manchester, told them in December 2020 that their daughter was struggling with her self-esteem. The teacher forwarded the parents an email in which their 11-year-old daughter claimed she was “genderqueer," citing her new name and pronouns as “he/him.” 

The parents contacted the school, requesting that the school refrain from discussing the issue with their children and allow them to “direct the mental health care of their children.”

The complaint states that Foote and Silvestri “have sincerely held religious beliefs that human beings are created male or female and that the natural created order regarding human sexuality cannot be changed regardless of individual feelings, beliefs, or discomfort with one’s identity, and biological reality, as either male or female.”

The parents claim they made it clear they would provide their daughter with the help she needed from a “mental health professional,” but they believe the school disregarded their instructions.

Foote and Silvestri claim their daughter “changed her preferred name at least twice since December 2020” without their knowledge and claim the school continues to address B.F. by “whatever iteration of her name she has indicated she prefers” despite their request not to do so.

The lawsuit also alleges that the couple’s son has “identified as transgender and requested to be called by a female name,” accusing the school of helping him hide this information from his parents. 

The lawsuit also describes an assignment given to students in September 2019 by librarian Jordan Funke, which allegedly asked students to create videos of their preferred gender pronouns. B.F. and possibly G.F. participated in the assignment without their parents knowing or consenting to their kids’ participation. 

The other set of parents, Feliciano and Salmeron, claim that they “are deliberately hindered from ascertaining whether their children are being secretly counseled about and affirmed in discordant gender identities without their knowledge or consent.”

“[Efforts] to affirm a discordant student gender identity at school violates parents’ fundamental rights under the United States and Massachusetts constitutions and violates children’s reciprocal rights to the care and custody of their parents, familial privacy, and integrity,” the filing states. 

The parents also alleged that the school superintendent at the time, Todd Gazda, publicly referred to opposition to gender transitions as “intolerance of LGBTQ people” disguised as “parental rights.” Gazda also reportedly implied that school is the only “safe pace” for students struggling with gender identity. The plaintiffs pointed out that the School Committee did not refute Gazda’s remarks. 

The lawsuit accuses Ludlow Public Schools of having a “protocol and practice of concealing from parents information related to their children’s gender identity.”

Ludlow School Committee Chair James P. Harrington told MassLive that the school district's teachers and staff are looking out for their students' best interests.

“It’s a slippery slope,” he was quoted as saying. “We want to support our students the best we can. But we should bring parents to the table, and hope they respond in a loving and supportive way as well.”

Bruce Hausknecht, a judicial analyst for the Christian organization Focus on the Family, told The Christian Post that "gender ideology in many of the nation’s public schools is premised upon secrecy and furthered by school policies that consider parents to be the problem, not the solution."

Hausknecht noted how the secrecy in schools regarding students’ gender identities has sparked pushback from parents in some states. He cited Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act as an example, a law that requires schools to inform parents about changes in services that could impact their child’s well-being.

Hausknect asserted that the situation in Massachusetts is not unique and that parents “everywhere” must stay “vigilant” when it comes to protecting their children from the “harmful ideologies” their schools may be pushing. 

“It is our primary obligation as parents to 'train up a child in the way he should go...' (Proverbs 22:6 ESV),” he wrote. “School policies that set schools, not parents, as the final authority are in direct contradiction of that biblical imperative.”

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