Parents Say Public Schools Make ‘Gender Identity’ Decisions for Them Without Telling Them
Lawsuits triggered by such practices have been filed in several states, including a Massachusetts case where a teacher was fired after advising parents about what was occurring without their knowledge.
LUDLOW, Mass. — In early March 2021, a sixth-grade social studies teacher informed the parents of an 11-year-old that the student had announced a new gender identity to teachers at school.
Later that month, the principal put the teacher on administrative leave for disclosing what had happened at the school to the child’s parents and subsequently fired her.
The principal cited “conduct unbecoming a teacher relating to your inappropriate contact with the parents of a student,” according to a federal lawsuit filed last month on behalf of the parents, Stephen Foote and Marissa Silvestri, against the school committee and several school staff members at Paul R. Baird Middle School, a public school in Ludlow, a town in western Massachusetts.
The Ludlow case is one of several lawsuits that have been filed in the United States in recent months by parents claiming that public-school officials have violated their constitutional rights to make mental health and religious-upbringing decisions for their children in the context of “gender identity” issues.
Comparable cases have been filed in Wisconsin, Oregon, California and Florida.
Emotional Problems and Gender Identity
A typical example, said Vernadette Broyles, a lawyer familiar with such cases, stems from an adolescent with emotional problems such as depression, anxiety or low self-esteem who finds YouTube videos suggesting that the root of the child’s emotional pain is the wrong gender identity. The student then floats the idea to a teacher or guidance counselor, who affirms the student’s suggestion, holds counseling sessions without the parents’ knowledge, and instructs other staff members and students to use different pronouns and to call the student by a new opposite-gender first name without first informing the parents.
“We are seeing a pattern across the nation where school officials are deliberately deceiving or concealing from parents that they are affirming their child’s gender confusion,” Broyles told the Register in a telephone interview.
School officials who support such practices said they are necessary in order to support the student, honor confidentiality and provide a “safe space” that the student may not have even at home.
Broyles, a lawyer who represents the Foote family in the Ludlow case, told the Register it’s a bad approach that harms the children it’s supposed to help.
“Children are developmentally in need of the judgment and the wisdom of their adult parents to make these significant and life-changing decisions for them,” said Broyles, president and founder of the Child and Parental Rights Campaign, a law firm with an office in Georgia that seeks “to defend parents’ rights to shield them from the impacts of gender-identity ideology.”
“When you drive a wedge between a parent and his or her child, you’re putting that child at risk at a time when the child needs their parent the most,” she said.
Florida Girl Tried to Kill Herself
Broyles is also one of three lawyers representing the parents of a 12-year-old biological female in Clay County, Florida, who tried to hang herself in a school bathroom in early January 2022 after experiencing turmoil concerning gender identity.
The girl likes sports and video games, and she was bullied at school last fall by fellow students who told her those were boy activities, according to court papers. A friend told her she might be transgender, and the girl, according to court papers, “began to think she could be transgender too because she wanted to be strong and free ‘like a boy.’”
A counselor at the school “endorsed the belief that [the student] could be a boy,” court papers state, and started calling the student by a masculine name without telling the parents. The counselor also told the student she would get teachers and other students to start calling the student by the new masculine name. The girl subsequently experienced humiliation at school.
On Jan. 4, 2022, according to the complaint, the student tried to kill herself at the school — although school officials later said they weren’t aware of the attempt. The next day, the student tried again. This time, school officials called the parents to the school. The student was involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility and later released to her parents.
Before that day, the complaint states, the parents “had not received any information from the school that [the student] was experiencing distress or exhibiting signs of gender confusion. Nor did they receive any information from the school that [the student] was being bullied at school and feeling insecure about being a girl, which was apparently happening.”
School officials blamed the suicide attempt on the parents’ “perceived lack of agreement with their daughter’s gender confusion because of their Catholic Christian faith,” according to the parents’ complaint, which also states that the parents and their daughter “are practicing Roman Catholics whose sincerely held religious beliefs, including a Judeo-Christian worldview based on natural law and objective truth, permeate all aspects of their lives.”
The school district is contesting the parents’ case. Lawyers for the school district have claimed in court papers, “Many of [the parents’] allegations are materially false,” without yet getting into details, and have argued that the parents’ rights were not violated. The case is pending in the Jacksonville Division of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
The Massachusetts Case
In late February 2021, the 11-year-old student in Ludlow sent an email message to teachers at the school announcing that she was “genderqueer” and wanted to be known by a new masculine name and new pronouns. The next day, according to documents associated with the case, the school guidance counselor sent an email message to other staff members telling them about the new student’s new gender identity.
A social studies teacher, Bonnie Manchester, who had previously contacted the parents about the student’s mental-health struggles, informed the parents about the student’s new gender identity during the first week of March. When the parents complained to Principal Stacy Monette that school officials were acting against their wishes, the principal removed Manchester.
The Ludlow dispute has sparked two legal conflicts. One involves the parents against school officials, which is a pending lawsuit. The other involves the social studies teacher who informed the parents and who is contesting her firing.
The teacher, Manchester, an evangelical Christian, quotes Scripture on her legal-defense fundraising webpage, on which she also says: “… my school is asking me to lie to the parents of an 11-year-old student, a practice that I believe is deeply harmful to them and to any person who seeks to nurture the values of empathy and understanding; this request lacks ethical standing. The school has taken the authority as the parent and has made the parent the enemy.”
Ludlow school officials haven’t said much publicly since the parents’ lawsuit was filed April 12 in U.S. district court. James “Chip” Harrington, the chairman of the Ludlow School Committee, a locally elected board that oversees the town’s public schools, referred questions from the Register to the school district’s interim superintendent, Lisa Nemeth, who could not be reached for comment by deadline.
A lawyer representing the school district was granted extra time last week by the judge in the case to respond to the parents’ complaint. The lawyer could not be reached for comment. Efforts to reach the principal and the guidance counselor were also unsuccessful.
Tense Public Meeting
Last year, while controversy was swirling around the teacher’s dismissal, school committee members and the superintendent of schools discussed the school district’s gender-identity practices during a tense virtual public meeting on May 25, 2021.
An email message from a 10th grader read aloud during the public-comment period accused school officials of ignoring parents’ rights and “pushing an agenda” on students ages 11 through 14.
“This agenda has been trying to convince them to change who they are — change their sexuality and gender, at an age that many kids don’t fully understand either,” the high-school sophomore wrote, according to a video clip of the meeting posted online by MassResistance, a pro-family organization that has closely tracked the Ludlow case.
The superintendent of schools at the time, Todd Gazda, read a statement responding to the email message, saying that “intolerance and prejudice against LGBTQ individuals is being thinly veiled behind a camouflage by what is being asserted as parental rights.”
“It seems that there is a group of individuals who take exception to the inclusive practices of our schools. We take pride in the fact that we are an inclusive public-school system. The only message we are pushing is one of acceptance and inclusion. As an educational community, our staff strives to create an environment where every student and staff member feels safe, supportive and free to be themselves, regardless of race, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity. If anything, we do not do enough to support these populations, and we need to do more,” Gazda said.
School is all some students have, he said.
“For many of our students, school is their only safe place, and that safety evaporates when they leave the confines of our buildings,” Gazda said.
Disagreement Over State Policy
Gazda (who has since taken another job) also said school officials in Ludlow have followed state law and guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
That’s a matter of dispute.
The guidance offered by the state agency says: “Transgender and nonconforming students may decide to discuss and express their gender identity openly and may decide when, with whom, and how much to share private information. A student who is 14 years of age or older, or who has entered the ninth grade, may consent to disclosure of information from his or her student record. If a student is 14 and is not yet in the ninth grade, the student’s parent (alone) has the authority to decide on disclosures and other student record matters.”
In the Foote lawsuit, the parents contended school officials concealed gender-identity information from them about two of their children who were both under 14 at the time. The Footes also said they informed school officials in December 2020 that they were seeking mental-health therapy for their 11-year-old daughter and that they asked school officials not to interfere. Instead, they said in the complaint, a school guidance counselor undermined their efforts by suggesting the student see another mental-health counselor because the student and the school guidance counselor “don’t have enough time together,” adding that the counselor said, “I can’t be there to keep you safe.”
The parents’ complaint argued that the school guidance counselor was “thereby planting or nurturing” in the student “the thought that her parents were not ‘safe.’”
Andrew Beckwith, a lawyer and president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said Ludlow school officials were effectively trying to cut off the children from their parents.
“The school officials’ behavior sends the message that parents do not have the best interest of their children in mind. It assumes that children need to be protected FROM their parents, instead of BY their parents,” said Beckwith, a lawyer who is also representing the parents in the Ludlow case, by email.
“The facts are not really in question in this case. It’s really about the school’s policy, which hides students’ mental-health concerns from parents,” Beckwith said. “This constitutes an appalling and dangerous violation of the rights of parents.”