Changing Students’ Names, Pronouns Without Parental Consent Violates Parental Rights: Judge


A Wisconsin school district’s insistence on using different names and pronouns for students claiming to be of another gender violates the rights of parents, a judge ruled on Oct. 3.

The Kettle Moraine School District “went against the parents’ wishes on how to medically treat their child,” Waukesha County Judge Michael Maxwell wrote in his ruling (pdf). “This directly implicates an infringement against the parental autonomy right to direct the care for their child.”

Two sets of parents sued the district, including one set whose daughter attended a middle school in the district.

The girl’s parents initially aligned with the school in support of the girl’s new gender identity but later said officials at the school should refer to the girl by her legal name and female pronouns.

The school refused.

That action “abrogated the parental rights” of the parents on how to medically treat their daughter, Judge Maxwell said.

The second set of parents, named as P.W. and S.W., sued over concerns the district would handle issues with their children the same way.

“Through its policy of disregarding parental wishes on a medical or health related decision and with how fast questioning ones gender can arise, P.W. and S.W. are at real risk of being harmed by the current school district policy,” the judge ruled. “The current policy of handling these issues on a case-by-case basis without either notifying the parents or by disregarding the parents wishes is not permissible and violates fundamental parental rights.”

He rejected an attempt by the district to throw out the suit, and granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.

Judge’s Ruling

The district was ordered to stop allowing or requiring staff members to refer to students with a name or pronoun at odds with their biological sex while at school absent parental consent.

“The Kettle Moraine School District will continue to work with all students, parents, guardians, and staff to clarify expectations. We respect the rights of parents and require written parental consent if and when using student names or pronouns that are at odds with their sex at birth,” Stephen Plum, the district’s superintendent, told The Epoch Times via email.

“This victory represents a major win for parental rights,” Luke Berg, deputy counsel at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, and lead counsel in the case, said in a statement.

“The court confirmed that parents, not educators or school faculty, have the right to decide whether a social transition is in their own child’s best interests. The decision should be a warning to the many districts across the country with similar policies to exclude parents from gender transitions at school,” he added.

District officials repeatedly called for the suit to be thrown out because, they said, parents do not have the right to control “every aspect of a child’s education.”

They also said that no court has found that parental rights “include a right of parents to control what nickname and pronoun school personnel use during the day.”

Judge Maxwell said that the case revolved around a medical issue, not an educational one, and that the defendants had offered no evidence otherwise.

“The school district could not administer medicine to a student without parental consent. The school district could not require or allow a student to participate in a sport without parental consent. Likewise, the school district can not change the pronoun of a student without parental consent without impinging on a fundamental liberty interest of the parents,” he wrote in the ruling.

Similar Cases

Defendants in support of their position pointed to a case in Maryland where two federal courts have ruled parents were unable to challenge policy that the district could keep secret their children using different names and pronouns.

One of the courts, though, also said parents have a fundamental right “to be promptly informed of their child’s gender identity,” and neither focused on the medical implications, Judge Maxwell said.

The matter of using different names and pronouns for minors remains an unsettled issue and the Wisconsin school district could, perhaps, introduce evidence backing its position of acting in contravention of parents, the judge said.

“But they certainly cannot do so on a whim in the manner that they did, and they have put forth no evidence—let alone clear and convincing evidence in this case. As plaintiffs correctly point out, even in cases where Wisconsin’s Child Protective Services are involved there is still a right to proper procedural fairness before a parent is deprived of their child within” Wisconsin law, he said.

“This court has before it what modern society deems a controversial issue—transgenderism involving minors within our schools. Clearly, the law on this issue is still developing across the country and remaining largely unsettled,” he added later.

“However, this particular case is not about that broad controversial issue. This particular case is simply whether a school district can supplant a parent’s right to control the healthcare and medical decisions for their children. The well established case law in that regard is clear—Kettle Moraine can not.”