Wisconsin Parents Sue School District for Allowing Daughter to ‘Socially Transition’ Without Their Consent

In this Dec.13, 2018 photo, Laura, a transgender girl, looks from behind a glass door during recess at the Amaranta Gomez school in Santiago, Chile.
Esteban Felix/AP Photo

Wisconsin parents removed their 12-year-old daughter from the Kettle Moraine School District (KMSD) after the school began a “social transition” so she could “present[] to others as the opposite sex,” according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of the parents by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

The lawsuit, which involves two sets of parents suing the school district, specifically challenges KMSD’s policy that “allows minor students to change their name and gender pronouns at school without parental consent,” according to a press release from ADF.

One of the couples says they were forced to withdraw their daughter from the district because teachers and administrators planned to use “a male name and male pronouns to address their daughter at school without their consent and over their objections.”

According to a letter from WILL and ADF to KMSD school board President Gary Vose and Superintendent Stephen Plum, the plaintiffs’ daughter “began to experience rapid onset gender dysphoria, along with significant anxiety and depression” in mid-December.

The other couple joined the lawsuit to make sure their children do not become subject to a “social transition.”

“This action seeks to vindicate one of the most fundamental constitutional rights every parent holds dear: the right to raise their children,” the filing begins.

The 12-year-old was removed from KMSD briefly to attend a mental health center to process her gender dysphoria in January, but was ultimately encouraged to accept that “she was really a transgender boy and encouraged her to transition to a male identity,” according to the lawsuit.

After returning to KMSD, the parents informed the school of the situation and expressed to school Principal Michael Comiskey and guidance counselor Christina Cowen that they “wanted teachers and staff to refer to their daughter using her legal name and female pronouns when she returned to school.” They were asked to wait another day before sending their daughter back to school, as the administrators needed to find out what the district’s policy was on students with gender dysphoria.

The next day, Comiskey informed the parents they, in fact, would refer to their daughter with whatever name and gender she preferred, over the objections of the parents, according to the lawsuit.

After pulling the child out of school, “about two weeks later, she changed her mind about wanting to transition to a male identity, deciding instead that she wanted to continue using her birth name and female pronouns,” and she told her mother that “affirmative care really messed me up.” [Emphasis added]. She explained to her mother, according to the lawsuit, that the “rush to affirm that she was really a boy added to her confusion and fueled anger towards her mother.”

“Parents’ rights to direct the upbringing, education, and mental health treatment of their children is one of the most basic constitutional rights every parent holds dear,” ADF Senior Counsel and Director of the ADF Center for Parental Rights Kate Anderson said. “Yet we are seeing more and more school districts across the country not only ignoring parents’ concerns, but actively working against them.”

Citing caselaw, the letter to the superintendent and school board president stated that, “One of the most fundamental and longest recognized ‘inherent rights’ protected by the Wisconsin (and United States) Constitution is the right of parents to ‘direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.'”

The letter then lays out three principles, from caselaw, regarding parental rights:

First, parents are the primary decision-makers with respect to their minor children—not their school, or even the children themselves.

Second, the fact that “the decision of a parent is not agreeable to a child or … involves risks” “does not diminish the parents’ authority to decide what is best for the child,” nor does it “automatically transfer the power to make that decision from the parents to some agency or officer of the state.” … Rather, courts recognize that “parents possess what a child lacks in maturity, experience, and capacity for judgment required for making life’s difficult decisions,” … and that parents, not government officials, “hav[e] the most effective motives and inclinations and [are] in the best position and under the strongest obligations” to decide what is best for their children.

Finally, parents’ constitutional rights reach their peak on “matters of the greatest importance.” … Medical and health-related decisions, for example, are generally reserved for parents: “Most children, even in adolescence, simply are not able to make sound judgments concerning many decisions, including their need for medical care or treatment. Parents can and must make those judgments.”

Deputy Counsel Luke Berg, who is lead counsel for this case, said:

“Schools cannot override parents when it comes to decisions about their children. Students’ decisions about what names and genders pronouns they prefer are no exception. Schools must defer to parents about what is best for their child.”

“No parent should be forced to withdraw their child from public school to preserve their parental role and protect their child,” the letter concludes. “The District’s policy not only directly interferes with parents’ right to make the critical decision about whether transitioning will be best for their child, it also does significant damage to the parent-child relationship.”

The case is B.F. v. Kettle Moraine School District, No. 21-CV-30701 in the Waukesha County Circuit Court.

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