Massachusetts parents have filed suit against their public school committee after learning their 11-year-old’s “genderqueer” identity had been kept hidden from them in what they argue is a violation of their rights according to state and federal constitutions.
Stephen Foote and Marissa Silvestri, parents of children identified as B.F and G.F, were joined by Jonathan Feliciano and Sandra Salmeron in a suit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. The federal challenge argues that children at Baird Middle School in Ludlow, MA were given assignments about gender identity and then encouraged to discuss their issues with representatives of the school without parental notification or consent.
According to the 58-page lawsuit, Foote and Silvestri’s daughter, B.F., in particular, had been given an assignment with her class in 2019 to create videos where they discussed their gender identity. “The videos of their children,” the suit attests, “were created without the parents’ knowledge or consent and it remains unknown how these videos were used or who was allowed to view them.”
The lawsuit states in part: “Defendants’ protocol and practice of concealing from parents information related to their children’s gender identity and efforts to affirm a discordant student gender identity at school violates parents’ fundamental rights under the United States and Massachusetts constitutions and violates children’s reciprocal rights to the care and custody of their parents, familial privacy, and integrity.”
Defendants include the Ludlow School Committee, Interim Superintendent Lisa Nemeth, former Superintendent Todd Gazda, and Baird Middle School’s Principal Stacy Monette along with school counselor and former librarian Jordan Funke.
According to the suit, Funke is nonbinary and encouraged “children to experiment with alternate gender identities without notifying parents or obtaining parental consent.” Foote and Silvestri were not notified until 2021 about the conversations their daughter had been having with the school.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) contains guidance pertaining to a 2012 law on “gender identity” in schools. While it attests that “Some transgender and gender nonconforming students are not openly so at home for reasons such as safety concerns or lack of acceptance,” allowing discretion from the school as to whether or not to disclose this information to parents, it specifically notes, “If a student is under 14 and is not yet in the ninth grade, the student’s parent (alone) has the authority to decide on disclosures and other student record matters.”
Their son, G.F., has also claimed to be transgender after having been exposed to the school’s curriculum and policies. According to MassLive, Ludlow School Committee chairman James ‘Chip’ Harrington stated, “It’s a slippery slope. We want to support our students the best we can. But we should bring parents to the table, and hope they respond in a loving and supportive way as well.” The defendants named in the suit did not provide comment, according to the Boston Globe.
However, Andrew Beckwith, president of Massachusetts Family Institute, in his capacity as attorney for the parents said, “This lawsuit is about protecting the right of parents to raise their children without the interference of government officials. By deliberately circumventing the authority of parents over the mental health and religious beliefs of their children, activists at the Ludlow schools are violating time-honored rights guaranteed under the US Constitution and the Massachusetts Constitution.”
In addition to preliminary and permanent injunctions that prohibit behaviors like this from the Defendants going forward, the suit seeks a remedy in part through a declaration that “teachers and staff…may not facilitate a child’s social transition to a different gender identity at school without parental notification and consent” and that they “may not attempt to deceive parents by, inter alia, using different names and pronouns around parents than are used in school.”
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