Wisconsin Court Allows Parental Rights Case to Move Forward

Wisconsin Court Allows Parental Rights Case to Move Forward

A Wisconsin circuit court denied a motion by Kettle Moraine School District to dismiss a case brought by parents of a student who claim their daughter was encouraged by staff to change her gender identity at school without parental consent.

In December 2020, the 12-year-old girl began experiencing signs of gender dysphoria, along with significant anxiety and depression. She informed her parents and school staff that she wished to go by a male name and male pronouns. But after seeking professional and medical support, as well as conducting extensive research, the parents decided that allowing their daughter to transition so quickly was not in her best interest.

The parents informed Kettle Moraine School District staff of their decision in January 2021 and asked the staff to continuing referring to their daughter by her legal name and female pronouns.

But the Kettle Moraine School District refused to honor their decision. According to Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), the principal informed the parents that it was district policy that if their daughter returned to school, school staff would refer to her using whatever name and pronouns she wanted while at school—even if they objected.

Concerned that daily affirmation of a male identity could harm their daughter, the parents withdrew the girl from Kettle Moraine School District and enrolled her in a different school district.

According to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has partnered with WILL to represent the parents, a few weeks after withdrawing from Kettle Moraine, the girl expressed to her mother that “affirmative care really messed me up.” Soon after, she reverted to identifying by her birth name and female pronouns.

In a letter to school officials dated May 18, 2021, WILL and ADF argued that both the Wisconsin Constitutionand the U.S. Constitution recognizes the “inherent rights” of parents to “direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.” In alignment with their argument, the law firms asked the school district to do three things: change its policy to require parental consent before a student changes his/her gender identity at school and commit to retraining its staff accordingly; acknowledge, in writing, that the district’s treatment of the family in question violated the parents’ constitutional rights; and pay the parents nominal damages of $1 as a symbolic vindication.

After the school district did not respond to the letter, the parents filed suit.

Kettle Moraine said that the claims brought by the parents are moot due to the fact that their daughter no longer attends the district. But Judge Michel P. Maxwell disagreed, writing, the parents’ allegations “[demonstrate] a potential violation of their rights as parents to direct the upbringing of their child and is sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss on the issue of standing.”

“Parents’ rights to direct the upbringing, education and mental health treatment of their children is one of the most basic constitutional rights every parent holds dear … ,” ADF Senior Counsel Roger Brooks said in a press release. “For that reason, we are pleased that the court rejected the school district’s request to throw out this case. … Kettle Moraine should take this opportunity to change its policy, which violates the constitutionally protected rights of parents and isn’t in the best interest of children.” 

Photo: Cavan Images/Alamy

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