American law has long recognized the importance of parental rights. A parent’s right to oversee the care, education, and control of their child is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, and confirmed by the Supreme Court in 1923, in Meyer v. Nebraska, and as recently as 2000, in Troxel v. Granville. To raise and educate a child as parents see fit is—and always has been—on a par with the other fundamental, constitutionally guaranteed rights.
Worryingly, one school district in Maryland is acting like parental rights are no longer valid.
In Montgomery County, Maryland, educators are actively keeping information about something as critical as a student’s gender identity preference hidden from parents—an action in direct contravention of legally guaranteed parental rights, and in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
In response, two families have sued the Montgomery County Board of Education. The suit aims to enforce their rights to access information about their children’s the gender identity, which is generated and retained by Montgomery County schools pursuant to a 2019 policy.
This policy enables Montgomery County Board of Education personnel to evaluate minors about sexual matters, allows minors of any age to transition socially to a different gender identity at school without parental notice or consent, and requires personnel to facilitate the transition with the use of the child’s “preferred pronouns.”
It also permits students to use the restroom that aligns with their “gender identity,” stating that while “[s]ome students may feel uncomfortable with a transgender student using the same sex-specific facility,” that “discomfort is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student.
School administrators and counseling staff members, the policy states, should work with students to “address their discomfort to foster understanding of gender identity and to create a school culture that respects and values all students.”
Certainly, the parents of students made to share sex-specific spaces with students of the opposite sex would want to know this information. But the Montgomery County Board of Education policy forbids it.
Stunningly, the policy prohibits personnel from communicating with parents on any of the above actions, and goes so far as to direct teachers and staff to deceive parents by reverting to a child’s birth name and corresponding pronouns whenever a child’s parents are present.
According to court filings, the Montgomery County Board of Education claims it is acting in the best interests of the minors involved by protecting them from the “unsupportive” parents of those children. In its motion to dismiss, the Montgomery County Board of Education represented that disclosure to parents who are “not supportive… might expose the student to harm” and that “gender nonconforming students face significant dangers of abuse at home from unsupportive families.”
The Montgomery County Board of Education policy requires that “the principal or identified staff member should speak with the student to ascertain the level of support the student either receives or anticipates receiving from home.”
By cloaking critically important information about one’s child under the guise that unsupportive parents are “dangerous” to their children, schools are given license to effectively label “gender-critical” parents as abusive without the benefit of due process protections. Under some cock-eyed theory of “harm at home,” the Montgomery County Board of Education substitutes schools for parents, and deprives all parents in the county school system of their fundamental right to vital information based on nothing but a hunch.
Montgomery County parents not only have the U.S. Constitution and the Maryland Constitution on their side, they have the protections of the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act as well. Specifically, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act gives parents of minors rights regarding their children’s education records, with the only exceptions being a court order or specific state law to the contrary.
These rights include a right to access their children’s education records, to seek amendment of those education records, and to consent to disclosure of personally identifiable information. Parents whose Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act rights are violated can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education (in addition to any private legal action).
Montgomery County is not alone in bypassing parental consent and notification when it comes to students’ gender transitions. It’s quite possible the gender transition nightmare that Jay Keck experienced with his autistic daughter—facilitated and concealed by school officials in a Chicago suburb—could happen to other parents who are not informed of their rights.
With full awareness of her mental health challenges, school officials helped Jay’s daughter socially transition by using her preferred pronouns, giving her access to a gender-neutral restroom, and keeping it all from her parents. When Jay and his wife discovered their child’s secondary identity and requested school officials treat her in accordance with her biological sex, they were continually defied.
For proof of school districts’ increasingly cavalier attitudes toward parental rights, see the Metropolitan School District policy in Madison, Wisconsin, that requires staff to keep a student’s gender identity “confidential” from parents if the student does not consent to the information being shared.
Or, see the New Jersey’s Department of Education’s guidelines, which instruct teachers how to avoid “inadvertently disclos[ing] the transgender student’s status” to parents.
Or, see the guide on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s website which instructs teachers to provide whatever “services” they can for transitioning students with unsupportive parents.
Even the National Education Association, a labor union for teachers across the nation, encourages teachers to hide a student’s gender identity from parents unless they are “required to [reveal it] by law.”
While the public school districts and their unions may foolishly assume it knows better than parents about what to do when it comes to a child’s “gender identity,” the Constitution and other federal law do not grant them the authority to circumvent parental consent or notification in these matters.
Despite the whims of the board of education, a parent’s rights do not end at the schoolhouse door. But if not eliminated, the unconscionable policy of the Montgomery County Board of Education will be the beginning of a steep and precipitous decline in protections for those rights.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal.