By: Cori Petersen
“Once she uttered the words ‘maybe I’m a boy’ that’s all they saw. She was no longer a young girl with mental health issues, she was now a young boy who was born in the wrong body,” said a mom from Kettle Moraine, Wisc. whose sixth-grade daughter began to question her gender in December 2020. “Something inside of me said, ‘No, that isn’t right.’”
Under the Wisconsin Constitution, parents have a right to “direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.” However, the Kettle Moraine school district has a policy that parents get no say in whether staff treat their children as the opposite sex while at school. Unfortunately, Kettle Moraine is not the only district in the state, to have a policy like this. For Instance, a story from Eau Claire Area School District went viral in the news last week when a slide from a teacher training session was leaked, instructing educators to hide information about a student transitioning genders from their parents, and the district defended their position.
The Wisconsin legislature is taking this issue on in the Parent Bill of Rights that is being voted on in the Senate today. If the Parent Bill of Rights passes, Kettle Moraine’s policy would be in violation of the new law.
In this particular case, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty is also helping these parents sue the school district in B.F. v. Kettle Moraine School District, where our clients’ names are confidential.
According to the mom, her daughter’s mental health began to suffer while she was home during the pandemic. The mom was actively seeking help and even reached out to the school for therapy connections. “Out of the blue she came up to me and said she didn’t feel like a girl and that she wanted to go to Rogers Behavioral Health Center because she was worried she was going to hurt herself,” the mother said.
The day before her daughter’s stay at Rogers, she told a friend at school that she was wondering if she was transgender. Later that day a staff member approached our client’s daughter and explained that if she’d like, they could go ahead and change how she is referred to at school. “My daughter told the teacher, ‘I can’t. My mom would be so upset if I did this without her knowing,’” said our client.
For this mom, it isn’t that she is morally opposed to transgender people, but “anyone in a state of depression should not make serious life-changing decisions.” After doing extensive research, “it was terrifying all the things I found,” our client said. “And I decided no, that this isn’t the best thing for my child.”
However, before returning to school after her stay at Rogers, her daughter sent an email to her school saying she was a boy and she wanted to be referred to by a boy name.
The parents told the Kettle Moraine district staff in January 2021, before their daughter returned to school, to continue referring to their daughter using her female name and pronouns. But the principal informed the parents that it was district policy that school staff could refer to their daughter using whatever name and pronouns she wanted, regardless of her parents’ wishes.
Our clients then removed their daughter from the district. “I removed all social pressures on this topic,” the mom said. “I took all social media away for a time, while finding her a therapist that would be willing to address her underlying comorbidities of depression, anxiety, low self-worth, and feelings to cause harm to herself.”
About two to three weeks after leaving school, her daughter’s demeanor changed. “She said, ‘Affirmative care really messed me up,’” her mom said. “It was like, ‘Okay you feel this way, this is how we align your body with your mind.’” She was also told that her mom would be the biggest obstacle. “My daughter went to get help and the help she thought she was getting turned me into the villain in her mind.”
Her daughter is now enrolled in a different district, seeing a therapist and supported by her family. She doesn’t experience feeling like a boy anymore.
The case against the Kettle Moraine School District is currently before the Waukesha County Circuit Court.
The Parent Bill of Rights being considered now in the Wisconsin legislature is not entirely unique to Wisconsin. Various states, municipalities and districts throughout the country have similar laws or guidance in place. For instance, Virginia recently adopted a policy that does not require parental consent for students to transition at school. New Jersey has issued similar guidance as has Montgomery County, MD, just to name a few.
However, some states are fighting the notion that adolescents should have the right to transition, period. For instance, the Arkansas legislature recently passed a law to prevent affirming surgeries or even hormone blockers for transitioning youth, which was since struck down by a federal judge. Legislators in Florida are currently working on a similar bill to criminalize gender-affirming surgeries.
School policies that prioritize the child’s preference over their parents, creates a concerning precedent that goes against the law by rejecting the parent’s legal right to direct the upbringing of their child.
“When I made the decision that I wasn’t going to support her in this and every other adult was cheering her on, I told my husband that she was going to hate me for a bit,” our client said. “And she did. But it was well worth it.”
Petersen is a writer and research associate at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.