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Right-wing law firm to sue Madison schools over gender identity policies

The Madison Metropolitan School District faces a lawsuit from a conservative advocacy group over discrepancies with the school district’s gender identity policies.

The Madison Metropolitan School District faces a lawsuit from a conservative advocacy group over discrepancies with the school district’s gender identity policies.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

The Madison Metropolitan School District has not removed or announced changes to its gender identity policies in the face of a Jan. 31 deadline to avoid a lawsuit by a conservative think tank.

The Wisconsin Institute for Life and Liberty issued a letter on Dec. 17, 2019, demanding the district “remove problematic policies” and “commit to retraining its teachers and staff accordingly.” The letter threatened that the think tank was “prepared to file a complaint in court” if the district did not comply within 45 days.

The district’s policies, designed to support transgender and non-binary students and prevent bullying and harassment, prohibit school staff from disclosing “any information that may reveal a student’s gender identity to others — including parents or guardians and other school staff — unless the student authorized such a disclosure.”

The policy does not allow school faculty to disclose personal or medical information of students who choose to transition or express an alternate gender identity at school unless authorized by the individual student.

In its December letter, WILL wrote on behalf of 15 parents whose children attend schools in the Madison schools that recently adopted these guidelines, stating they violate their clients’ “constitutional rights as parents.”

"Specifically, the policy allows children of any age to change gender identity at school without parental notice or consent, prohibits teachers and other staff from notifying parents about this (without the child’s consent), and — in some circumstances — even requires teachers and other staff to actively deceive parents," the letter stated.

The conservative think tank argued that parents should be able to make important decisions regarding their children’s health. WILL also alleged that psychological distress triggers gender dysphoria, which can be treated by mental health professionals and that the school district’s policies detract from parents abilities to “raise their children in accordance with their religious beliefs,” according to a press release.

“It’s incomprehensible to me that anyone would target these rights and do it [without] a care [for] the students, for kids,” said Amira Pierotti, who co-leads Madison Memorial High School’s Gender Equity Association. “This [potential lawsuit] isn’t for the betterment of others — this is because you are scared you don’t know what’s going on with your kids and you’re afraid they’re trans or gender-expansive because you are transphobic.”

The guidance document advises staff to use a students’ legal name and gender in correspondence with families, even if they know the student prefers a different name or pronouns. 

WILL deputy counsel Luke Berg confirmed Friday that the organization would file a lawsuit, but would not specify when. 

"We asked them to commit to making changes and they're not committing to change anything," Berg said. "We will proceed accordingly."

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