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Goldwater Urges Supreme Court to Give Parents Their Day in Court

January 9, 2024

Parents deserve to know what’s happening to their children in public schools, but a Maryland school district enacted a policy that keeps moms and dads in the dark about their own kids’ health. That’s why the Goldwater Institute filed a brief last week urging the U.S. Supreme Court to give parents their day in court when school officials violate their constitutional right to control and direct the education and upbringing of their children.

The case involves a policy adopted by the Montgomery County Board of Education in 2020 that empowers school officials to place students on “transgender support plans” and then hide that fact from parents if school officials think they might not be “supportive.” But there’s no “unsupportiveness” exception to constitutional rights. And parents cannotmeaningfully raise their children if school officials are empowered to conceal information about actions that affect students’ mental health and physical wellbeing.

The U.S. Supreme Court has time and again reaffirmed the fundamental nature of parental rights and struck down laws that violate that right. Four decades ago, for instance, the court specifically held that just “because the decision of a parent is not agreeable to a child or because it involves risks does not automatically transfer the power to make that decision from the parents to some agency or officer of the state.”

But the board’s policy does just that—it automatically transfers authority to make certain decisions from parents to school officials, solely on the basis that a parent might not be supportive of transgender ideology. And after a group of parents sued the school board, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the parents challenging the policy couldn’t sue to begin with—because their children had not yet been placed on a transgender support plan.

This holding, however, misses the forest for the trees and defeats the purpose of the so-called standing requirement. That requirement says that only people who have been affected in some way by the policy they’re complaining about are allowed to challenge it in court. It’s supposed to ensure that courts decide only real rather than hypothetical cases—alegitimate goal—yet in recent decades, judges have tended to apply the “standing” rule far too narrowly. And by doing so, they’ve often missed the point of the standing requirement in the first place. In many cases, it’s obvious that a plaintiff has been harmed when the when considering the full context of the situation. That’s exactly what’s happening here.

The Montgomery County policy gives school officials complete, unfettered discretion to abridge parents’ right to know what’s happening to their children. And the policy’s express intent is concealment, which means that parents will be unaware that their child been put on a transgender plan until long after the plan is in place, and perhaps long after the parent-child relationship has been damaged.

This case is not unique. Across the country, “woke” educators think they know better than parents—and are taking steps to enforce their will. Even the New York Times has admitted that schools are encouraging student gender transitions “without parental consent,” and that “parents of all political persuasions have found themselves unsettled by what schools know and don’t reveal.” Schools are putting themselves between parents and children, attempting to replace parents as the primary raisers of their children.

In Maine, for example, public school officials purposefully concealed from Amber Lavigne that they were referring to her 13-year-old daughter by a different name and pronouns. Goldwater is suing the school board on Amber’s behalf after one “counselor” even gave the child a chest binder and encouraged her not to tell her parents.

In Massachusetts and Florida, too, parents are suing over policies that allow—and in some cases, require—teachers to conceal information about children asserting a gender identity that differs from their biological sex. (Goldwater filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the parents in both the First Circuit and Eleventh Circuitarguing that the Constitution requires school officials to inform parents of any decision that directly affects their children’s mental health or physical wellbeing.)

Public school secrecy goes beyond gender transitions, too. In states like Rhode Island and Texas, Goldwater is helping concerned parents get the answers they deserve after school districts charged them thousands of dollars in public records fees to find out what’s going on in their kids’ schools.

Whether it’s matters of health or questions about their children’s curricula, public school districts should never hide things from parents. That is why the Goldwater Institute is fighting to empower moms and dads, not activist educators, to make decisions that best meet their children’s needs.

You can read our brief here.

Adam Shelton is a Staff Attorney at the Goldwater Institute.



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