Dan and Jennifer Mead trusted the Rockford Public School District in southwest Michigan. After all, their daughter had attended schools in the district for years, and they believed the district’s employees had always been open and honest with them about her education, including about any concerns they had with her progress or well-being.
But that all changed when district employees broke the Meads’ trust and violated their parental rights by secretly treating their 13-year-old daughter as a boy, referring to her by a new masculine name and male pronouns.
District policy required employees to take this action without asking the Meads’ permission—or letting them know. The policy even required employees to intentionally hide the district’s actions from the Meads by altering their daughter’s official records to remove references to the district’s new name and pronouns for her. The Meads only discovered the truth by accident when an employee inadvertently left some references to the masculine name and male pronouns and sent home an only partially altered document.
Beginning with honesty
The Meads’ daughter started sixth grade at East Rockford Middle School in August 2020. During the fall semester, her teachers noticed her falling behind in school, and Jennifer began communicating with them often to help her daughter catch up.
Following Christmas break, the Meads’ daughter started meeting regularly with a school counselor. While their conversations initially centered around academics, the sixth-grader gradually started opening up more about her life in general.
According to the school counselor’s notes from their meetings that spring, the Meads’ daughter shared concerns about sick family members and frustrations with certain teachers. She even told the counselor that her family wanted advice about someone she could see for counseling over the summer.
After many of these meetings, the school counselor told the Meads what she had discussed with their daughter, mostly through email correspondence. Because of this openness, the Meads came to trust that counselor and the school district. Jennifer even sent a heartfelt message thanking the counselor because the Meads’ daughter felt “safe talking with her.” Soon enough, however, the district would betray Jennifer and Dan’s trust.
Betrayal of trust
The school counselor continued meeting with the Meads’ daughter during the 2021–2022 school year. In January 2022, the counselor contacted Jennifer to voice concerns about the girl. Over the following months, to support their daughter, the Meads volunteered large amounts of sensitive information about their family to the counselor.
That May, however, the counselor withheld a critical piece of information from the Meads. One day, the counselor received a message from the Meads’ daughter asking that teachers begin referring to her by a new masculine name. Despite the trust the Meads had placed in the school district, the counselor did not tell them about this request.
When the Meads’ daughter began eighth grade in the fall of 2022, the school district was already referring to her by the masculine name. By early September at the latest, district employees were regularly using that name and male pronouns to refer to her. All the while, no one asked the Meads for permission to make this change or even informed them about it. Instead, they continued using their daughter’s correct name and female pronouns when talking with the Meads.
The truth will out
It wasn’t until Dan Mead met with a district employee in October 2022 to discuss the district’s plan for his daughter’s education that he and his wife noticed something was awry. The district had been making a concerted effort to hide the masculine name and male pronouns from the Meads, removing references to the new name and pronouns from documents that the Meads would see. But the district didn’t hide its plan perfectly: at that October meeting, the district employee inadvertently gave Dan a document that included comments from a teacher using the district’s masculine name and male pronouns to refer to his daughter.
Jennifer noticed the comment and emailed the district to ask if there had been a mistake. Had the Meads had received a report for someone else’s child? But that same district employee would later admit that she had changed all other references to the masculine name in the report to the girl’s correct name. She had simply forgotten to change some of them.
When the Meads found out the district had betrayed their trust, they tried to talk with the district about the situation and whether the district would stop using a masculine name and male pronouns for their daughter. The principal at their daughter’s school confirmed that the district would continue doing what it was doing. It was the district’s policy. So the Meads had no choice but to withdraw their daughter from the district. And in December 2023, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit on the family’s behalf.
By deliberately hiding important information from the Meads about their daughter, the school district violated their parental rights. Parents have the fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, and health care of their children, and government officials have no right to hide critical information from them.
- August 2022: The Rockford Public School District began referring to the Meads’ daughter by a masculine name and male pronouns without informing the Meads or asking their permission.
- October 2022: After the district began its scheme of altering school records, the Meads discovered the masculine name and male pronouns in a report that a district employee had, by accident, left only partially altered before sharing with them. They then withdrew their daughter from the school district.
- December 2023: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against the school district on the Meads’ behalf.