The Madison school district is violating the rights of parents to be informed when their children self-identify as a gender other than what they are, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) is representing 14 parents (eight families) in the lawsuit against the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD).

“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,” WILL said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “These policies violate critical constitutionally recognized parental rights.”

According to WILL, the MMSD policies violate parental rights “in multiple ways.” According to WILL

  • 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.

The conservative legal organization notified the Madison school district in December that a lawsuit was likely unless the district changed their policies. In the “demand letter” at the time, WILL President Rick Esenberg said the school district cannot interfere with the decisions of parents.

“In sensitive, personal matters involving children’s well-being, a public school district should not, and cannot, make decisions reserved for parents,” said Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel for WILL. “While MMSD may think it is operating in the best interests of children, they have adopted policies that violate crucial, constitutionally recognized parental rights.”

Specifically, WILL identified the following polices that were adopted in April 2018.

  • 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, about their child’s gender identity at school.
  • 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 Wisconsin State Journal reports the school district dismissed WILL’s concerns last month in a statement:

“While some may not agree that we should address students by their affirmed name and pronouns, the reality is that we support *ALL* of our students and staff no matter who they are and no matter how they identify,” Sherry Terrell-Webb, the district’s interim legal counsel, wrote in a letter to WILL last month, according to the State Journal. “If ever there is a belief that the safety and security of our students is threatened, we will prioritize our students’ safety.”

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