Parents, teachers sue school district over trans pronoun policy
A parent-teacher group has sued a Virginia school district over a policy requiring teachers to use the preferred pronouns of trans-identified students.
The plaintiffs, whose names have been redacted, filed a lawsuit last week in Rockingham County Circuit Court against the City of Harrisonburg Public Schools administration.
At issue is the school board’s decision to add “gender identity” to the school district’s non-discrimination policy. The policy requires teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns and to hide information about students’ gender identity from their parents if the student requests it.
The lawsuit claims the policy “forces teachers to violate their religious beliefs about gender and honesty” and “violates the rights of parents by interfering with their ability to direct the upbringing and education of their children.”
“The Complainants…are HCPS teachers and parents who oppose HCPS policy on freedom of speech, religious freedom, and parental rights,” the complaint reads.
“The Complainants care deeply about their students and children. They see the growing number of children struggling with gender dysphoria and want these children to experience love and support. But like many, plaintiffs acknowledge that a policy of immediate social transition and blind affirmation without parental involvement as every instance of gender dysphoria in minors is harmful, not to say contrary to science.”
The plaintiffs are represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative nonprofit legal association that has filed a similar lawsuit against other school districts.
“Public schools should never hide information or lie to parents about a
mental health of the child,” the complaint reads. “And schools should never force teachers to perpetrate such deception.
ADF lead attorney Ryan Bangert said in a statement that he believes parents “have a fundamental right to direct the nurturing, care and nurturing of their children.”
“Teachers and staff cannot deliberately hide information about children’s mental health from their parents, especially since some of the decisions children make in school have potentially life-altering ramifications,” Bangert said.
“As the clients we represent believe, the role of a teacher is to support, not supplant, the role of the parent.
HCPS released a statement on its website that the school board “remains a strong commitment to its statement of inclusivity.”
“In specific student situations, the emphasis is always on fostering a team approach that includes and supports the unique needs of the student and family on a case-by-case basis,” HCPS said.
“We are dismayed that this complaint comes to us in the form of a lawsuit instead of the collaborative approach we invite and take to address specific needs or concerns, an approach that we believe is in the best interests of our students, staff and families.”
HCPS adopted the policy after school divisions mandated by the Virginia Department of Education adopted policies similar to a model policy it supported in the 2021-2022 school year. Other school districts have adopted similar policies.
In addition to the HCPS lawsuit, ADF is overseeing litigation against Loudon County Public Schools in Virginia over a similar measure known as Policy 8040.
According to Loudon County policy enacted last year, teachers and school staff must use the name and chosen pronouns of a student who identifies as “gender expansive or transgender.”
“School staff shall, at the request of a student or parent/legal guardian, when using a noun or pronoun to address the student, use the noun and pronoun that align with her consistently asserted gender identity,” the policy reads.
“The use of neutral pronouns is appropriate. Unintentional slips in the use of nouns or pronouns may occur; however, staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun violate this policy.
Last year, Loudoun County Schools suspended teacher Tanner Cross after he voiced his objection to what was then an 8040 policy proposal at a school board hearing. He said the policy would “harm children” and “defile the holy image of God”. He argued that asserting students’ preferred pronouns is “lying to a child”.
After a judge ordered the school district to reinstate Cross, the school district argued that it had received complaints from students and parents who “expressed their fear, pain and disappointment at the prospect of come to school” in light of Cross’ comments. Loudoun County Schools said addressing these concerns is “paramount to the school division’s goal of providing a safe, welcoming, and empowering learning environment for all students.”
The Virginia Supreme Court denied the school district’s appeal against the court’s order to reinstate Cross.