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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
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Supreme Court won’t review parents’ objection to school policy on gender identity

The justices refused to jump into a fight over a school policy letting teachers protect students’ gender identity preferences from their parents.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court refused on Monday to review a Maryland school policy on gender identity that several parents claim violates their rights.

Three parents with children who attend Maryland County public schools asked the justices to review a teacher policy for transgender students. The school board implemented guidelines in 2020 with best practices for students struggling with their gender identity, including keeping that information from parents who aren't supportive.

Three anonymous parents challenged the “Parental Preclusion Policy,” claiming it violates their parental rights. They argue that the policy deprives them of their rights to be fully informed and involved in addressing issues relating to their minor children. The parents claim that the guidelines hinder them from deciding what’s in their children’s best interest.

“Plaintiff parents have monitored and guided their minor children’s sexual development and instruction, and they desire to continue to do so according to their own assessment of their children’s bests interests, but they are being impeded by the Parental Preclusion Policy,” Frederick W. Claybrook, Jr., an attorney with Claybrook LLC representing the parents, wrote in their petition.

The policy's stated aim is to create a safe and welcoming environment; school officials are encouraged to make a support plan for any student with gender identity or gender transition issues. The school board said these plans ensure equal access for all students and foster social integration and cultural inclusiveness.

School officials are instructed to create these plans with the student’s family — if the family is supportive. However, schools also must ensure that student medical information is kept confidential and staff members cannot share a student’s information without consent. 

The school board said its guidelines recognize that not all transgender or gender-nonconforming students can openly express their gender identity at home. In these cases, the board instructs staff to support the student in a way that acknowledges these safety concerns, including not sharing the student’s gender preference with their parents.

The school board said it had a compelling interest in protecting student privacy.

“As courts have recognized in cases weighing families’ privacy rights, students retain ‘the right not to have intimate facts concerning one’s life disclosed without one’s consent,'” Alan Schoenfeld, an attorney with Wilmer Cutler representing the school, wrote in a brief before the court.

A lower court dismissed the complaint because none of the parents claimed that the school had created a support plan for their children. The parents could also not prove that the policy would likely be applied to their children because none of their children identifies as transgender or gender-nonconforming.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit also found the parents lacked standing to challenge the policy. The panel majority said the parents’ opposition reflected a policy disagreement that should be addressed at the ballot box, not to unelected judges in the courthouse.

The parents appealed to the justices, claiming that their petition presented “one of the most pressing issues of our day.” They said schools across the country were implementing similar policies, putting parents at risk of losing the right to make decisions for their minor children.

“The time for this court to step in is now,” Claybrook wrote. “There is no good reason to wait to resolve these issues of critical importance. This court should reconfirm the priority of parents’ rights to assure the well-being of their minor children, and it should do so promptly.”

The school board said that the parents’ argument was instead a reason to decline review in this case.

“The purported salience of this issue underscores exactly why there is no need for the court to grant review here, where plaintiffs who lack any injury ask it to issue a mere ‘advisory opinion,’” Schoenfeld wrote.

The justices did not provide an explanation for declining to hear the appeal. There were no noted dissents.

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Appeals, Education

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