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Policies and Parents: A Time to Speak, Part II

Sharon Supp
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Policies that ignore biological reality—ignore sex—pose serious risks to student health and safety and undermine parents' fundamental rights.

This article is part two in a two-part series on parental rights. Read part one here.

Policies that ignore biological reality—ignore sex—pose serious risks to student health and safety and undermine the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children. Using the “4 C’s” (clear, concise, civil, and courteous) of communication, invested parents, concerned educators, and involved citizens should regularly and relentlessly engage local school boards and state legislators by citing evidence to make cogent points in favor of passing prudent policies to protect children and respect parental rights.

1. Schools should not adopt policies to treat gender dysphoria in students that deceive or exclude parents. Gender dysphoria is a serious mental health issue. Parents should decide the treatment for their children’s mental health, not schools.

Contrary to what some schools are teaching, no child is born in the wrong body. Children who express discomfort with their bodies, and a desire to change names and pronouns, are experiencing a psychological disconnect between their sex and their internal feelings about and perception of their sex. In some cases, children who experience disconnection and discomfort may have gender dysphoria requiring mental health intervention.

Gender dysphoria is a mental health condition that, as many medical experts recommend, can be treated through counseling. Children experiencing this condition often have other underlying mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Those conditions need to be addressed as well.

Studies show that the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria will come to accept their sex if they are allowed to progress through puberty without interference. Experts warn of the dangers of “socially transitioning” children to a gender identity that does not match their sex. Dr. Stephen B. Levine, a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, has testified that “social transition”—allowing children to publicly identify as the opposite sex through dress, names, use of intimate facilities, and other behavioral cues—is an “experimental” construct that puts vulnerable children at higher risk of lifelong physical and mental health issues (including suicide). Dr. Kenneth J. Zucker, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, has warned that encouraging “social transition” equates to a “psychosocial treatment that will increase the odds of long-term persistence” of gender dysphoria.

In the Kettle Moraine School District case, school officials rushed to impose a male identity on a 12-year-old girl after she expressed confusion over her gender identity at school. They then hid this from her parents. But only two weeks after her parents withdrew her from the school, her gender dysphoria resolved. Looking back, the young girl realized that “affirmative care” “really messed me up” and fueled anger toward her mother. Gender dysphoria can resolve over time. But parents, not school employees and administrators, should decide on their children’s treatment.

School boards that instruct adult authority figures in schools to reinforce a gender identity in children that is at odds with their sex may cement that gender dysphoria. By enacting such policies, school boards are assuming the role of mental health professionals despite their lack of qualifications and lack of involving parents. This is a dangerous and slippery slope that exposes school boards and their members to legal liability. A commonsense policy would involve parents in all decisions affecting their child, thereby affording them the opportunity to pursue treatment options that they determine are best for their child’s specific needs.

2. Schools should not adopt policies that allow school employees to maintain “secret files” about gender-confused students or to otherwise conceal important information from parents. Such policies are unlawful because they undermine parental rights.

Several schools around the country have kept “secret files” containing confidential “gender support plans” spelling out how school authorities will reinforce a student’s “social transition” by use of false pronouns. Schools keep these plans separate from students’ standard academic records, and the content and existence of such files are hidden from parents under the guise of child privacy (unless the minor child consents to parental notification).

Not only do such files violate the fundamental right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their child, but they may also violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which ensures parental access to student educational records. Except in very rare cases, schools should never be permitted to conceal important information regarding the physical and mental health of a child from his or her parents.

3. Schools should not adopt policies that demand employees address a student with pronouns that are inconsistent with the student’s sex. These policies violate free speech and may violate parental rights.

Policies that compel school employees to address a child using a false pronoun violate the employees’ right to free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution. Educators cannot be forced to refer to boys as girls and girls as boys in violation of their conscience, and teachers like Monica Gill, Kim Wright, and Tanner Cross are leading the way in challenging such unconstitutional policies.

Furthermore, if a school acts to address a child by a different name and pronoun at school than the child’s parents do at home, the child’s parents have a constitutionally protected right to know. Parental consent to such a significant change to a child’s identity should be required. A parent’s right to direct the upbringing and education of their child does not simply stop at the schoolhouse door.

4. Schools should not adopt policies that create privacy and safety risks to students

Policies that allow students to use locker rooms, showers, and restrooms based on their subjective internal feelings, rather than their objective sex, violate the privacy, safety, and dignity rights of all students. In addition, they increase the risk of serious harm to girls (who are about twice as likely as boys to be the victim of a sexual assault).

When any student is (for whatever reason) unwilling or unable to use a multi-occupancy restroom, shower, or changing facility designated for their sex, a reasonable accommodation would be for schools to permit that student access to a single-occupancy restroom or changing facility.

5. Schools should not adopt policies that allow boys to compete in girls’ sports because they expose girls to serious physical injury and put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Title IX of the Education Amendments, which was passed nearly 50 years ago, is designed to ensure equal opportunities for women and girls in sports. The need for sex-specific athletic teams has long been recognized due to the well-known scientific effects of testosterone on the male body. Once puberty is underway, males have 15 times the testosterone of females. These testosterone levels cause body changes that give them greater oxygen capacity, a larger heart, bigger bone size and density, and increased muscle mass and strength. This creates strength and speed that enables males to consistently outperform females.

Experts like Dr. Gregory Brown, a professor of exercise science at the University of Nebraska, recognize that these biological realities make fair competition between males and females impossible. In addition, these biological differences increase the risk of injuries to female athletes. Young women like Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, Alanna Smith, and Ashley Nicoletti; Madison Kenyon and Mary Kate Marshall; and Lainey Armistead are bravely speaking up for science and common sense. Parents, educators, and other concerned citizens should as well.

Finally, citizens can also point school board members and lawmakers toward a positive approach to protecting children and addressing their gender confusion. The Promise to America’s Children articulates principles and policies that protect children’s minds, bodies, and family relationships. Instead of adopting radical, politically driven policies that harm and divide, school board members and lawmakers can put children first by protecting parental rights.

Educators and lawmakers should respect the duties, authority, and rights of parents to guide their children along life’s sometimes confusing paths. If ever there were a time to speak, the time is now.

Sharon Supp
Senior Research Analyst
Sharon Supp serves as Senior Research Analyst at Alliance Defending Freedom