Montgomery’s Cliff: Stripping Parents of Rights in the Name of Gender Ideology?

COMMENTARY: The county school board’s assault on parental rights is not limited to keeping parents in the dark when it comes to children pursuing ‘gender transition.’ It is also denying religious parents the right to opt their children out of indoctrination.

The county has directed teachers to use 'Pride Storybooks,' a collection of 'LGBTQ+-inclusive' books with preschool through eighth grade students.
The county has directed teachers to use 'Pride Storybooks,' a collection of 'LGBTQ+-inclusive' books with preschool through eighth grade students. (photo: Becket Law )

The attack on parental rights in America continues relentlessly. Just a stone’s throw from our nation’s capital, school officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, are brazenly imposing gender ideology on their young pupils.

Montgomery County is the largest school district in Maryland, responsible for educating 160,000 school children. Or should that be indoctrinating?

For the 2020-2021 school year, the county’s Board of Education adopted “Guidelines for Gender Identity” that would permit schools to develop “gender support plans” for students. The guidelines allow schools to implement these plans without the knowledge or consent of parents — and even to authorize the schools to withhold information about the plans from parents if the school deems the parents to be “unsupportive.”

Three Montgomery County school parents, rightly enraged, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the policy. In August 2022, U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm for the District of Maryland, an Obama appointee, ruled against the parents.

“The guidelines carefully balance the interests of both the parents and students, encouraging parental input when the student consents, but avoiding it when the student expresses concern that parents would not be supportive, or that disclosing their gender identity to their parents may put them in harm’s way,” he wrote.

On appeal, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the parents did not have legal standing to sue. But even the majority opinion, written by Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr., was hardly fully supportive of the board’s position. The guidelines, he wrote, were “staggering from a policy standpoint.” He added that the board was reaching into “areas that parents should handle.” Nevertheless, Quattlebaum concluded that the parents had failed to establish their right to challenge the guidelines in court, noting that none of the parents’ children had “gender-support plans” or even “had any discussions with school officials about gender transitioning or gender identity issues.”

Judge Paul Niemeyer disagreed. The majority, he wrote in dissent, embraced an “unfairly narrow” definition of standing. The guidelines, Niemeyer added, allowed school administrators to undermine “the constitutionally protected role” of parents and pull “the discussion of gender issues from the family circle to the public schools without any avenue of redress by the parents.”

Legal standing is an important threshold question for courts, making sure that — as Article III of the Constitution demands — courts intervene in a dispute only when there is a live case or controversy.

Standing is not about the actual issues of the case but instead looks at where the parties in a prospective lawsuit “stand” in relation towards each other. This limiting principle, unfortunately, means that many injustices simply cannot be reviewed in court because the party bringing the lawsuit has not established the elements of standing: a “concrete and particularized” injury that is “fairly traceable” to the defendant’s conduct and likely to be redressed by a favorable ruling.

Undeterred, the concerned parents petitioned the Supreme Court to review their case, arguing that the board of education’s “parental preclusion policy” violates their “fundamental rights to direct the care and upbringing of their children.” The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would not review their petition.

That was a disappointing decision, and unfortunately there are other very alarming things happening in Montgomery County.

The School Board’s assault on parental rights is not limited to keeping parents in the dark when it comes to children pursuing “gender transition.” It is also denying religious parents the right to opt their children out of indoctrination.

Although the state of Maryland allows parents to opt their children out of sex education classes, Montgomery County has found a typically sneaky work-around by weaving gender ideology throughout the English language curriculum offered to the youngest learners under their care.

As I have previously described for the Register, the county has directed teachers to use “Pride Storybooks,” a collection of “LGBTQ+-inclusive” books, with preschool through eighth grade students. The result is a sinister indoctrination on matters related to human sexuality and identity at odds with most traditional religious teaching.

A group of parents representing many faith traditions demanded their right to shield their children from ideas that flatly contradict their religious beliefs about human sexuality, identity and marriage. Their request was flatly denied by the Montgomery County School Board, a federal district judge and now the Fourth Circuit.

Last week, a divided appellate panel rejected the parents’ request for a preliminary injunction.

“We take no view on whether the Parents will be able to present evidence sufficient to support any of their various theories once they have the opportunity to develop a record as to the circumstances surrounding the Board’s decision and how the challenged texts are actually being used in schools,” wrote the majority. “At this early stage, however, given the Parents’ broad claims, the very high burden required to obtain a preliminary injunction, and the scant record before us, we are constrained to affirm the district court’s order denying a preliminary injunction.”

One judge on the panel disagreed. Judge Quattlebaum, the same judge that ruled the parents in the case mentioned earlier lacked standing, carefully articulated the standards for granting a preliminary injunction, applied the facts of this case to those standards, and asserted that an injunction was appropriate.

Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket Law who represents the parents, has said they will appeal the ruling. We can only hope that further judicial review will grant relief to these parents.

What about other parents who are rightly concerned about the creep of gender ideology into their children’s classrooms?

The omens are not good.

Catholic scholars Mary Rice Hasson and Theresa Farnan have been stalwart in warning of the danger of gender ideology in our nation’s schools.

“It is now impossible to put the transgender genie back in the bottle, at least in the public schools,” they wrote in their 2018 book Get Out Now: Why You Should Pull Your Child from Public School Before It’s Too Late.

As the horrible plight of families in Montgomery County Public Schools makes clear, it looks as if they were right.