Lawsuit against Leon Schools says district excluded parents from gender discussions
Tallahassee Democrat | By Ana Goñi-Lessan | November 16, 2021
A “public interest” law firm has filed suit on behalf of a Tallahassee couple against Leon County Schools, saying the district violated their rights because its LGBTQ policies exclude parents from conversations about their children’s gender identity.
The lawsuit, filed by The Child & Parental Rights Campaign in federal court last month, asks for the district to change its LGBTQ guide to adhere to Florida’s Parents’ Bill of Rights.
The Child & Parental Rights Campaign “was founded to respond to a radical new ideology overtaking families and threatening the well-being of children and the fundamental right of parents,” according to the organization’s website.
The lawsuit alleges the district spoke to the couple’s child about gender identity without their consent. However, school officials maintain a parent gave the school permission to let the child take the lead in discussions.
The lawsuit and email chain
The suit says in late spring of 2020, the couple’s middle-school child began experiencing gender dysphoria. The Democrat is not identifying the parents or the school to protect the identity of the child.
“Gender dysphoria is the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
According to the suit, in August 2020, the mother emailed a math teacher about her child’s gender identity and said they had found a counselor for their child.
Even though the child asked to go by they/them pronouns and a different name, the parents did not agree to those changes and said the child’s pronouns would remain those assigned at birth, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint states that the parents “…did not authorize [the math teacher] to tell other teachers, or anyone else, about using ‘J.’ as a nickname.”
The complaint also says that the parents became upset when they found out the school discussed restroom preferences and name changes without their consent.
Emails obtained by The Democrat in a public records request, however, reveal the mother worked with a teacher to determine how best to navigate the situation.
After the August email from the mother informing the math teacher of her child’s gender identity and name preference, the math teacher responded:
“…Would you like me to share this with (redacted) other teachers? Or are you telling them? Thanks again.”
The mother replied:
“I honestly hadn’t gotten that far … Whatever you think is best or [redacted] can handle it (pronoun redacted).”
“If (pronoun redacted) really wants them to do this we really need to tell them. I can do it for you if you’d like. I am even the SAFE SPACE ally for (name of school redacted) for LGBTQ students.”
“That’s wonderful to hear … This gender situation has thrown us for a loop. I sincerely appreciate your support. I’m going to let (pronoun redacted) take the lead on this.”
The parents said the initial email was simply about the possibility of the child using a nickname with other teachers, said Vernadette Broyles, the parents’ attorney.
“The transgression against parental rights went far beyond any limited authorization,” Broyles said. “The fact that the parents were affirmatively communicating with the school, the fact that the school would take the situation and then cut them out and meet secretly with this child without the parents involved makes it worse when it was the parents who brought it to their attention in the first place.”
LCS reviewing LGBTQ policy
At the time of the meeting, the district’s LGBTQ guide stated that parents did not have to be told about a child’s gender or sexual identity. The guide, which was taken down from the district’s website and is currently being reviewed by the district, previously said:
“Q: A student has exhibited behavior in school leading administrators or teachers to believe the student is LGBTQ+. Should the parents or legal guardians be notified?
“A: No. Outing a student, especially to parents, can be very dangerous to the students [sic] health and well-being. Some students are not able to be out at home because their parents are unaccepting of LGBTQ+ people out. As many as 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+, many of whom have been rejected by their families for being LGBTQ+. Outing students to their parents can literally make them homeless.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says schools should “identify ‘safe spaces’, such as counselors’ offices or designated classrooms, where LGB youth can receive support from administrators, teachers, or other school staff.”
In the lawsuit, the parents say they repeatedly tried to contact Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna and the district about the status of the new LGBTQ guide and even proposed changes, but revised guidance has yet to be published.
He initially apologized to the parents in a meeting, but he told the Democrat he wasn’t aware of the email from the mother which said to let the child “take the lead.”
“I felt like we would be able to work through it without it coming to this,” Hanna told the Democrat. “I think this is the case where a national group is getting involved just to politicize and to hype their personal agenda, and they’re taking advantage of the parents, this situation and a minor child, without having all the information. The parents had given the school permission to let the child take the lead without their involvement.”
Unless the district rescinds and stops using the LGBTQ guide and student support plans and begins notifying parents of gender identity issues, “the right of familial privacy will continue to be violated,” the complaint says.
The parents’ lawsuit asks for damages, including for emotional distress, saying their relationship with their child has been damaged because of the district.
“When the schools meet with the children under these circumstances without notifying the parents, it creates a huge wedge within the parent-child relationship,” the mother told the Democrat.