14 parents sue Madison school district over transgender policy

The Madison Metropolitan School District is being sued by the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on behalf of 14 Madison parents.

MADISON, Wis. — The Madison Metropolitan School District is being sued by the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on behalf of 14 Madison parents.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday morning claims the school district’s transgender policy is violating parents’ constitutional rights by not telling them if their child wants to be called a different name at school.

“Effectively what this is doing is taking a very significant and major life and healthcare-related decision and telling students, ‘You have the right to make this totally independent of your parents and we’re actually going to help you hide this from your parents if you want,'” said Luke Berg, an attorney for Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

To officially change a student’s name in school records a parent’s permission is required. But Berg said the current policy, which was adopted by MMSD in 2018, allows school staff to use the student’s preferred name at school and official name in front of parents.

Berg believes schools should require parents be notified before changing a student’s preferred name. He said parents need to be involved so they can decide if a transition would be helpful or harmful to the child.

“Some parents, who know their kids far better than the district does, might instead of an immediate transition want to help their kids learn to find comfort with their body, if that’s at all possible,” said Berg.

Berg said if a student is concerned about telling their parents, then they “don’t have to transition yet.”

LGBTQ advocates say the policy is meant to support students, even if they’re not ready to come out at home.

“It’s designed to create a safe and affirming environment for our transgender students to help them gain confidence in their identity and be able to share this information with their families,” said Brian Juchems, co-director of GSAFE, a statewide organization helping schools support LGBTQ students.

Juchems said Madison has the best transgender policy in Wisconsin.

He believes having teachers and staff address a student by the name they want to be called “affirms who they are, helps them feel seen, and helps them feel supported.”

“It’s more than just a fad, it’s more than just a phase. It really is about having the right to be seen for who we are,” said Juchems.

If the student is prematurely outed to their families by the school, Juchems said it could put the student in danger if their parents don’t agree with the decision. He said many young transgender students are kicked out of their homes.

According to OutReach LGBT Community Center’s Transgender Health Advocate, by calling a transgender student by their chosen name and pronouns, they experience 71% fewer symptoms of depression and suicide attempts decrease by 65%.

Timothy LeMonds, a spokesman with the Madison Metropolitan School District, said the district prioritizes the safety and well-being of every student.

“It is with this focus, the district stands by its guidance document on transgender and non-binary students, and recognizes its tremendous responsibility to uphold the right of every child to be educated in a safe,  all-inclusive and nondiscriminatory learning environment,” LeMonds said in a statement.