Parents group files lawsuit against Wisconsin school district over gender identity training policy

A federal lawsuit against a Wisconsin school district alleges violations of parenting rights and religious freedom in the wake of controversy over the school’s new gender identity policy.

Last year, the Eau Claire Area School District (ECASD) implemented a new policy for teachers and staff that encouraged confidentiality between students and teachers regarding matters of gender identity.  

One slide instructed teachers to “[r]emember, parents are not entitled to know their kids’ identities. That knowledge must be earned.” The complaint also contains a picture of a flyer put up by a teacher reading, “If your parents aren’t accepting of your identity, I’m your mom now.”  

The complaint states that the school district encouraged students to contact a staff member to address concerns regarding “gender nonconformity or identification with a transgender or ‘non-binary’ identity,” after which the school would formulate a “Student Gender Support Plan” with the student.  

The plan includes questions regarding parents’ awareness of the child’s gender status or school requests, and allows the school to facilitate confidentiality without involving parents or guardians. 

A letter last spring from ECASD superintendent Michael Johnson to district families, published by local media, emphasized the privacy rights of students in such matters.  

“While we all agree that collaboration between families, students and the school community is most beneficial,” Johnson wrote, “there are situations in which students do not wish to discuss issues with their families. Some federal courts have recognized student privacy rights on issues of gender and sexual orientation. 

“If a child were to share their gender preference or sexual orientation with a staff member,” the letter continues, “and the staff member informed the parent without the child’s consent – this potentially violates the privacy rights of the student.” 

The complaint requests declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that the Fourteenth Amendment protects parental rights to make decisions regarding the care of their children.  

Additionally, the complaint claims that the ECASD Gender Identity Policy interferes with the First Amendment right of free exercise of religion, as it “interferes with PPOC’s members’ right to choose a treatment approach that is consistent with their religious beliefs and does not involve a social transition” along with “interfer[ing] with PPOC’s members’ rights to teach and guide their children through gender identity issues in accordance with their religious beliefs.”  

The suit is brought by “Parents Protecting our Children,” made up of members of the district, and aims to “vindicate parents’ fundamental rights to care for and raise their children, and to religious freedom.” Among the named defendants are the ECASD Board of Education President Tim Nordin, and superintendent Johnson. 

The complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on September 7, 2022.