Three students at a Wisconsin middle school are being charged with sexual harassment for not using another student’s “preferred” gender pronouns.
And the legal organization representing the accused suggests one school official may have been on “a fishing expedition to find evidence of sexual harassment” during interviews that failed to follow the school’s own policies.
In March, officials at Kiel Middle School first notified the parents of three eighth-grade boys that their sons were being investigated for sexual harassment.
According to the district, the boys failed to use a classmate’s requested pronouns of “they” and “them.” The school claims the conduct is sexual harassment under Title IX, which prohibits gender-based harassment in the form of name-calling.
Rose Rabidoux, the mother of one of the boys, told local media the use of pronouns was “confusing” to her son. She added that the classmate only recently announced the preferred pronouns, suggesting that other students were still adjusting.
“Sexual harassment – that’s rape, that’s incest, that’s inappropriate touching,” Rabidoux said. “What did my son do? He’s a little boy. He told me that he was being charged with sexual harassment for not using the right pronouns.”
Attorneys from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) are representing the Rabidoux family and the families of the other two students who were accused.
In a May 12 letter sent to the superintendent, the school counselor and the Title IX compliance officer, WILL accuses the district of misinterpreting Title IX, which makes no mention of “gender identity.” They also say none of the alleged behavior “comes remotely close to sexual harassment.”
“The complaint against these boys, and the district’s ongoing investigation, are wholly inappropriate and should be immediately dismissed,” the letter reads.
The letter also argues that the district violated Title IX investigation procedures and the school’s own policies. Based on the evidence provided, WILL says the district should “promptly end the investigation, dismiss the complaints and remove them from each of the boys’ records.”
In response to parents’ complaints, superintendent Brad Ebert released a statement that fails to address the specifics of the case. Instead, the letter notes that the Kiel Area School District “prohibits all forms of bullying and harassment in accordance with all laws, including Title IX, and will continue to support ALL students regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, sex (including transgender status, change of sex or gender identity), or physical, mental, emotional or learning disability (“Protected Classes”) in any of its student programs and activities; this is consistent with school board policy. We do not comment on any student matters.”
WILL has asked the district to provide key documents in the case by Friday. If the district fails to respond, the parents are expected to take legal action.