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By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Madison public school’s policy allowing children of any age to transition to a different gender identity at school — without parental consent — is headed for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The court last week agreed to hear the case of Doe v. MMSD (Madison Metropolitan School District, filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a group of parents challenging the gender identity policy “that violates the rights of parents to make important healthcare decisions on their children’s behalf.”

The district insists its guidance is not policy.

WILL and ADF first filed the lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court in 2020 alleging the school district adopted policies that even instructed district employees to deceive parents about the transition, according to the complaint.

“We are pleased the Wisconsin Supreme Court has agreed to hear this important case. The Madison Metropolitan School District cannot make decisions reserved for parents,” said Luke Berg, deputy counsel for WILL, a Milwaukee-based civil rights law firm.

The Supreme Court will review a September 2020 partial injunction against the policy and to what extent the parents can remain anonymous. Oral arguments are expected to be scheduled at a later date.

Madison Metropolitan School District adopted its “Guidance and Policies to Support Transgender, Non-binary & Gender-Expansive Students” in April 2018.

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 lawsuit alleges the district’s policy violates constitutionally protected parental rights. Transitioning to a different gender identity is a significant psychotherapeutic intervention that requires parental notice or consent, the attorneys said in a press release. “Public school districts, like Madison, do not have the right to make those decisions for parents.”

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Frank Remington issued a partial injunction that prevents MMSD from “applying or enforcing any policy, guideline, or practice” that “allows or requires District staff to conceal information or to answer untruthfully in response to any question that parents ask about their child at school, including information about the name and pronouns being used to address their child at school.”

WILL and ADF assert the injunction does not go far enough. It still allows minor students to transition at school without parental notice or consent, and for the district to hide this from parents until they specifically ask about it. Remington also partially denied the parents request to remain anonymous.

At the time of the Dane County judge’s ruling, district spokesman Tim LeMonds said MMSD would follow the court’s injunction. He reiterated MMSD’s legal argument, that the district doesn’t have a policy, only guidance on student gender identity.

“The District has not and does not construe or interpret the Guidance to support or encourage MMSD officials to misrepresent or conceal anything from parents, and the Court did not otherwise require MMSD to change its existing approach,” LeMonds said.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will determine whether WILL’s clients can proceed anonymously and whether Judge Remington’s injunction goes far enough, in light of the potential for significant harm from a secret “affirmed” transition at school.

“School policies that exclude parents from children’s gender identity decisions are harming children across the country,” said Kate Anderson, director of ADF’s Center for Parental Rights. “We are hopeful that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will take the lead in protecting a parent’s right to be a parent.”

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