Sunday, December 4th, 2022
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MADISON — The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has long been a haven of leftist thought and policy. Increasingly, the agency has become politically weaponized in the pursuit of its woke diversity, equity and inclusion agenda.

Most recently, DPI launched an investigation into a Milwaukee Public Schools counselor whose alleged crime is that she spoke passionately in opposition to “gender identity ideology.” At a feminist rally in Madison.

DPI is investigating whether the counselor should lose her license for “immoral conduct.”

“The state is, quite simply, trying to punish a public-school counselor for her views on gender ideology. This is a classic, clear-cut, violation of the First Amendment and the state can expect a federal lawsuit if it proceeds,” said Luke Berg, attorney at the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. On Wednesday, the civil rights law firm sent a letter warning DPI of the legal perils it faces in attacking an educator’s First Amendment rights.

Marissa Darlingh, the MPS counselor, spoke at a feminist rally at the state Capitol on April 23, 2022.  She said she “oppose[s] gender ideology” in elementary schools and that young children should not be “exposed to the harms of gender identity ideology” or given “unfettered access to hormones—wrong-sex hormones—and surgery.”

She told rally-goers that she “exist[s] in this world to serve children” and “to protect children,” and does not support social or medical transition of young children. Darlingh, apparently in a moment of passion, declared “f… transgenderism,” referring to the “gender identity ideology” that she believes harms children.

DPI didn’t care for such rhetoric, even on Darlingh’s own time. The agency issued the counselor a letter just six days later, informing her that an investigation was underway to determine whether to revoke her educator license for “immoral conduct.” The letter cites Darlingh’s use of profane language as well as her statements “oppos[ing] gender identity ideology from entering [her] school building” and her statements that she “do[es] not believe children should have access to hormones or surgery” as examples of her “immoral conduct.”

DPI learned of Darlingh’s comments through video of the rally, sent to the agency by a “community member” — aka, informant.

DPI informed the educator of her rights.

“Before DPI makes its decision about whether to initiate license revocation proceedings, you have the right to respond to the allegation and to provide any information that may be relevant to the investigation,” Stephanie Arnott, Educator Licensing and Legal Investigator for DPI’s Office of Legal Services, states in the letter.

Arnott goes on to tell Darlingh that she has “the option to voluntarily surrender” her license at any point during the investigation, an act that would “bring DPI’s investigation of this matter to a close.”

The agency’s “surrender agreement” would prohibit Darlingh from applying for reinstatement. If she would ever try to apply for her license, the agreement may be used as the “sole basis to deny the application or reinstatement.”

WILL’s warning letter reminds DPI that while educrats may not like Darlingh’s speech, it is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. More so, attempts to revoke her license will be vigorously disputed in a federal lawsuit.

“Ms. Darlingh’s speech was on her own time (a Saturday), spoken as a private citizen on a matter of public concern,” WILL notes. “In fact, few things would qualify more as protected speech than speech at a public rally at a state capitol. And the ‘immoral conduct’ clause in state law is clearly directed at conduct, not speech.”

“My views on the harms of gender ideology to children are informed by a desire to serve and protect children,” Darlingh said. “That’s why I got into education. I will love and serve every child under my care, no matter what. But I won’t recant under threat from the state.”

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