WILL Sues Madison Schools for Violating Parental Rights

District refuses to alter gender identity policies

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), on behalf of a group of Madison parents, filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court against the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) for adopting and implementing policies that violate the rights of district parents. The challenged MMSD policies enable children, of any age, to change their gender identity at school without parental notice or consent, and instruct district employees to conceal and even deceive parents about the gender identity their son or daughter has adopted at school. These policies violate critical constitutionally recognized parental rights.

WILL represents 14 individual parents from 8 families with students in MMSD.

The Quote: WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg said, “Madison schools have adopted policies that violate constitutionally recognized parental rights. A public school district should not, and cannot, make decisions reserved for parents.”

Background: In April 2018, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) adopted “Guidance and Policies to Support Transgender, Non-binary & Gender-Expansive Students.” Importantly, the policy includes the following provisions:

  • Children of any age can transition to a different gender identity at school, by changing their name and pronouns, without parental notice or consent.
  • District employees are prohibited from notifying parents, without the child’s consent, that their child has or wants to change gender identity at school, or that their child may be dealing with gender dysphoria.
  • District employees are even instructed to deceive parents by using the child’s legal name and pronouns with family, while using the different name and pronouns adopted by the child in the school setting.

The MMSD policy violates parents’ constitutionally protected rights in multiple ways, including:

  • Parents have the right to make important healthcare decisions on their children’s behalf. Transitioning to a different gender identity is a significant psychotherapeutic intervention that requires parental notice or consent. There are multiple treatment options for gender dysphoria, some of which don’t involve transitioning, so parents must be involved in which treatment path to pursue.
  • Gender dysphoria is often associated with significant psychological distress and requires support from mental health professionals. MMSD’s policy interferes with parents’ ability to provide the support their children may urgently need.
  • The policies also conflict with the “general rule [in Wisconsin] requiring parents to give consent to medical treatment for their children.”
  • For some parents, gender identity issues also have religious significance. MMSD’s policy interferes with parents’ free-exercise rights to raise their children in accordance with their religious beliefs and to select a treatment approach consistent with those beliefs.

WILL issued a demand letter to the school district on December 18 urging the district to update and amend the above policies to avoid a lawsuit. MMSD responded on January 31 that there would be no update to district policies.

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