A group of parents in Madison, Wisconsin, has filed a lawsuit against the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) for violating parental rights by implementing a policy that allows children to change their gender identity without parental notice or consent.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed the lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court on behalf of the parents. According to a press release from WILL, the school policy, issued in April 2018, also instructs district employees to “conceal and even deceive parents about the gender identity their son or daughter has adopted at school.”

The MMSD policy, titled “Guidance & Policies to Support Transgender, Non-binary & Gender-Expansive Students,” contains content and information provided by LGBTQ+ rights activist group GLSEN.

On Page 9 of the policy document, the school district instructs about “Confidentiality”:

The district shall ensure that all personally identifiable and medical information relating to transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive students shall be kept confidential in accordance with applicable state, local, and federal privacy laws. School staff shall not disclose any information that may reveal a student’s gender identity to others, including parents or guardians and other school staff, unless legally required to do so or unless the student has authorized such disclosure.

Transgender, non-binary, and gender-expansive students have the right to discuss and express their gender identity and expression openly and to decide when, with whom, and how much to share private information. If a student chooses to use a different name, to transition at school, or to disclose their gender identity to staff or other students, this does not authorize school staff to disclose a student’s personally identifiable or medical information.

On Page 16, the policy states:

Students identified as transgender, non-binary, and gender-expansive may have not come out to their families regarding their gender identity.

Disclosing a student’s personal information such as gender identity or sexual orientation can pose imminent safety risks, such as losing family support and housing.

  • All staff correspondence and communication to families in regard to students shall reflect the name and gender documented in Infinite Campus unless the student has specifically given permission to do otherwise. (This might involve using the student’s affirmed name and pronouns in the school setting, and their legal name and pronouns with family).
  • In the event that a student insists on maintaining privacy from their family, student services staff shall discuss with the student contingency plans in the event that their privacy is compromised.

“Madison schools have adopted policies that violate constitutionally recognized parental rights,” said WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg. “A public school district should not, and cannot, make decisions reserved for parents.”

In December, WILL issued a demand letter to Sherry Terrell-Webb, Interim General Legal Counsel of MMSD, calling upon the district to amend its policies in order to avoid a lawsuit.

The district responded, however, on January 31 that it would not be updating its policy.

According to NBC15, MMSD spokesperson Tim LeMonds said the district is holding fast to its policy for gender dysphoric students.

“MMSD prioritizes working in collaboration with families to support our students and it is always our preferred method of support,” he said. “MMSD must also prioritize the safety and wellbeing of every individual student who walks through its doors each day.”

WILL noted gender dysphoria is a mental health issue and parents have the right to make healthcare decisions on behalf of their children.

“MMSD’s policy interferes with parents’ ability to provide the support their children may urgently need,” the nonprofit law firm stated.

Additionally, WILL observed MMSD’s policies “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,” WILL asserted.