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by Brooke Migdon | April 15, 2022
Two sets of parents in Massachusetts are suing a group of middle school teachers and administrators, alleging that the Ludlow School Committee violated their rights as parents by failing to disclose information related to their children’s gender identities.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court, parents Stephen Foote and Marissa Silvestri allege their children, identified in the complaint as B.F. and G.F. because they are minors, were encouraged by their teachers at Baird Middle School to adopt new names and pronouns without Foote’s or Silvestri’s consent.
They were also told they could use the restroom or locker room that matches their gender identity, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit – filed by the conservative groups the Massachusetts Family Institute and the Child and Parental Rights Campaign – claims school staff acted in “reckless disregard” of the plaintiffs’ parental rights by having private conversations with their children about their gender identities and intentionally concealing that information from them.
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The two other plaintiffs, Jonathan Feliciano and Sandra Salmeron, also have two children in the school district.
The parents claim a district policy affirming students’ gender identities violates state and federal law.
According to the lawsuit, new guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) was issued to school districts in 2012 after state law was amended to include gender identity as a protected class.
The guidance supplied by the DESE suggests that, in some cases, transgender and gender-nonconforming students may not be open about their gender identity at home because of safety concerns or lack of acceptance. For those reasons, teachers in the state should speak with the students prior to discussing their gender identity with their parents.
But, the guidance also specifies that, in cases involving “young students,” parents should be briefed on matters related to the child’s gender identity. The guidance, however, does not clarify what is meant by “young students.”
The parents’ complaint also alleges that one of the defendants, school counselor Marie-Claire Funke, told students that they were nonbinary and asked to refer to them using nonbinary pronouns. The lawsuit claims that Funke told their students to refer to each other using gender-neutral pronouns and encouraged “children to experiment with alternate gender identities without notifying parents or obtaining parental consent.”
In a statement to MassLive, Ludlow School Committee Chair James P. “Chip” Harrington said the district’s teachers and staff have only ever had their students’ best interests in mind.
“It’s a slippery slope,” he said. “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.”
But Massachusetts Family Institute President Andrew Beckwith, who is also serving as the parents’ attorney in the case, said affirming a student’s identity does not fall within the purview of their teachers.
“This lawsuit is about protecting the right of parents to raise their children without the interference of government officials,” Beckwith told the Boston Globe. “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.”
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