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Colorado School District Kept Parents in the Dark Over Gender Identity Rooming Scheme

Jefferson County Public Schools secretly tried to force an 11-year-old girl to share a bed with a male who identifies as transgender on a school-sponsored trip.
Alliance Defending Freedom
Joe and Serena Wailes stand together and smile in a well-lit forest

Overnight school field trips are supposed to be an exciting time for young students to enjoy hands-on learning and bond with their classmates. For many, school trips to historic American cities like Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C., have created some of the fondest memories of their educational journeys.

But for one fifth-grade student from Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) in Colorado, the lasting memory of her trip to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., will not be entirely pleasant.

An uncomfortable night

In June 2023, JCPS sponsored an overnight trip for fifth-grade students to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Serena and Joe Wailes had a daughter in fifth grade, D.W., who attended the trip. They were assured in multiple parent meetings leading up to the trip that male and female students would be staying not only in different hotel rooms but also on completely different floors. And they were told that their daughter would room with three other girls.

Serena decided to accompany her daughter on the trip, but she did not serve as a chaperone. During the trip, the students were told that boys and girls were not allowed to visit each other’s hotel floors without permission. D.W. was assigned to share a room with two students from her school and one student from a different school whom she did not know.

D.W. was supposed to share a bed with K.E.M., the student from another school. So D.W. was friendly and tried to make K.E.M. feel included. But on the first night, K.E.M. identified as transgender to D.W.

D.W. was understandably uncomfortable with the idea of sharing a bed with a male student, so she snuck into the bathroom and quietly called her father and then her mother, who met her in the lobby of the hotel. Serena contacted a chaperone on the trip, who then contacted a trip leader.

The chaperones asked D.W. if she could simply move to another bed rather than a new room, and while she was still uncomfortable, she agreed to try it for one night so that she could get some sleep. But the chaperones, consistent with district policy, told D.W. to lie about the reason and say she needed to switch beds to be closer to the air conditioner.

Once the chaperone and D.W. were back in the hotel room, however, another roommate suggested that K.E.M. also switch to the bed closer to the air conditioner. D.W. was afraid to speak up in front of the other roommates on the contentious topic of gender identity, so she went into the hall and again told Serena she was uncomfortable.

Finally, the chaperones agreed to rearrange the rooms so that D.W. was in a room with only one other girl. But they again told her to lie about the reason for the room change, blaming it on a sick roommate who needed more space.

Flawed policy

Throughout all the events of the night, the JCPS-sponsored chaperones were required to follow the district’s explicit policy, which disregarded D.W.’s feelings and privacy, repeatedly putting her in difficult positions and disregarding her privacy concerns.

According to the policy, students who identify as transgender are roomed based on gender identity instead of sex “[i]n most cases.” But JCPS does not provide that information to all parents.

By applying the policy the way it did here, JCPS put an 11-year-old girl in an uncomfortable and entirely avoidable situation. And it robbed her parents of the opportunity to exercise their parental rights to make the best decision for their daughter ahead of the trip.

Joe and Serena Wailes are requesting JCPS clarify its policy regarding room assignments for students.

The Waileses never had a chance to request any accommodations prior to the trip because D.W. did not know she would be sharing a bed with a male student identifying as transgender until that student told her on the first night of the trip. In addition, while in this case K.E.M.’s parents had all the information and could make an informed decision about rooming for their child, D.W.’s parents did not. The Waileses were explicitly told that their daughter would not share a room with a male—boys and girls were to be roomed on separate floors—which turned out to be false.

Parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children, and that clearly includes the right to decide whether their children should share rooms with members of the opposite sex, regardless of the other student’s gender identity. By hiding information from the Waileses about the sex of their daughter’s roommate, JCPS ignored basic parental rights.

JCPS must make things right

The Waileses have two children who are currently in fourth grade and are scheduled to go on the same JCPS-sponsored trip next year. But the Waileses don’t want to be lied to again about the sexes of the students their children will be rooming with.

Alliance Defending Freedom sent a demand letter on the Waileses’ behalf asking JCPS to clarify by Dec. 18, 2023, whether it will inform all parents about the policy and their children’s room assignments and allow them to make informed decisions for their children.

Policies that keep parents in the dark should be concerning to everyone. Jefferson County Public Schools, like all school districts, must respect the right of every parent to make important decisions about their children’s upbringing, including whether they can share an overnight room with members of the opposite sex.

Case timeline

  • June 2023: JCPS assigned D.W. to room with a male who identified as transgender without informing D.W. or her parents. CPS chose to push gender ideology over every student’s privacy. But finally, after several requests to change rooms, JCPS made arrangements for D.W. to room with only one other girl.
  • December 2023: ADF attorneys sent a demand letter on behalf of the Waileses asking JCPS to clarify by Dec. 18, 2023, whether it would be honest with all parents so that they can decide whether their children should share overnight rooms with members of the opposite sex.
  • January 2024: ADF attorneys sent a second demand letter in response to JCPS stating that parents should have the option, before any school-sponsored overnight trip, to opt their children out of any policy that assigns rooms based on gender identity rather than sex. The second letter demonstrates that other parents like the Waileses have experienced similar situations, leaving JCPS parents in the dark and unable to make the best decision for their children.