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Madison Schools warned to stop keeping gender secrets from parents

Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 20, 2019

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — A conservative public-interest law firm is serving notice to the liberal Madison Metropolitan School District: Stop ignoring parental rights or face the legal consequences.

The Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) this week sent the district a demand letter warning that the school system had 45 days to amend its policy or WILL would file a lawsuit.

At issue, the district’s guidance document, adopted in 2018, that enables children — of any age — to change gender identity at school without parental notice or consent. WILL notes the policy goes as far as instructing district employees to conceal and even deceive parents about the gender identity their son or daughter has claimed at school.

“In sensitive, personal matters involving children’s well-being, a public school district should not, and cannot, make decisions reserved for parents,” WILL’s president and founder Rick Esenberg said in a statement. “While MMSD may think it is operating in the best interests of children, they have adopted policies that violate crucial, constitutionally recognized parental rights.”

Tim LeMonds, public information officer for the school district, tells the Wisconsin Law Journal that MMSD does’t have an identity policy; it has a “guidance document that is based on practice, not policy.”

But the guidance document, which cites school safety as a reason for keeping a student’s personal information confidential from parents, still keeps a student’s personal information confidential from parents. That includes elementary school-aged children who may express gender change preferences to a teacher or school staff member.

The legal question is: What right does the school system have to keep such important information hidden from a child’s parents or guardians?

Known as, “Guidance and Policies to Support Transgender, Non-binary & Gender-Expansive Students,” the policy includes the following provisions:

  • Children of any age can transition to a different gender identity at school, by changing their name and pronouns, without parental notice or consent.
  • District employees are prohibited from notifying parents, without the child’s consent, about their child’s gender identity at school.
  • District employees are even instructed to deceive parents by using the child’s legal name and pronouns with family, while using the different name and pronouns adopted by the child in the school setting.

WILL is representing 15 individual parents from nine families with students in the district. The case could have statewide implications.

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