Massachusetts School Teachers Sued After Allegedly Encouraging Students to Alter Gender Identity

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Posted: Apr 15, 2022 10:30 PM
Massachusetts School Teachers Sued After Allegedly Encouraging Students to Alter Gender Identity

Source: AP Photo/Robin Rayne

Parents with children attending middle school at Ludlow Public Schools in Massachusetts have filed a lawsuit against a group of teachers and administrators over the district's gender policy and failure to disclose students' gender identity to their parents.

A lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal court by the Massachusetts Family Institute and the Child and Parental Rights Campaign on behalf of two separate sets of parents, who claim their children were encouraged by their Baird Middle School teachers to change their names and pronouns without parental consent.

The students were also told they could use restrooms corresponding with their new gender identity, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges that the district's policy affirming the gender identities of transgender students violates both state and federal law. 

And while the lawsuit did not identify the school policy, The Boston Globe Magazine reported in the fall that the district allows students to adopt new names and pronouns, and school staff are barred from discussing a student's gender identity with their parent unless the child offers their consent.

But in Tuesday's lawsuit, the parents claim the district has not implemented a formal written gender policy, violating a state requirement.

The parents said that guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was issued to school districts in 2012 after state law was changed to include gender identity as a protected class.

The guidance states that transgender students may sometimes not wish to disclose their gender identity to their families due to concerns about safety or acceptance. Because of this, teachers are expected to talk with the student before discussing their gender identity with their parents.

However, the guidance also explains that, when "young students" are involved, parents should be notified regarding issues on their child's gender identity. The guidance fails to define what is meant by "young students."

The suit asserts that one defendant, former middle school librarian Jordan Funke, publicly expressed to the school community that they were "nonbinary," told students to use gender-neutral pronouns on each other and encouraged children to "experiment with alternate gender identities without notifying parents or obtaining parental consent."

Funke is also accused of telling incoming sixth-graders in 2019 to make videos that featured their gender identity and preferred pronouns. The child of two of the parents involved in the suit, then 11, was among those students. Funke had not sought parental consent, according to the complaint.

Ludlow School Committee Chair James P. Harrington said in a statement to MassLive, "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."

But the parents' attorney, Massachusetts Family Institute President Andrew Beckwith, told The Boston Globe that the lawsuit is about parental rights.

"This lawsuit is about protecting the right of parents to raise their children without the interference of government officials," Beckwith said. "By deliberately circumventing the authority of parents over the mental health and religious beliefs of their children, activists at the Ludlow schools are violating time-honored rights guaranteed under the US Constitution and the Massachusetts Constitution."

This comes after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) recently signed the Parental Rights in Education bill into law, banning instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades kindergarten through third grade and limiting age-inappropriate discussions of sexuality in other grades.

Dubbed by critics as the "Don't say gay" bill despite there being no mention of a ban on the word, Florida's legislation also allows parents to access their children's education and health records and requires schools to notify parents of changes to their child's mental, physical or emotional well-being. The bill exempts schools from disclosing information to their parents if a "reasonably prudent person" would be concerned that doing so could result in abuse, abandonment or neglect.

Legislation mirroring Florida's parental rights law has since been introduced in other states, including Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and Ohio.