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U.S. Appeals Court Dismisses Suit Against Trans-Supportive School Policy

U.S. Appeals Court Dismisses Suit Against Trans-Supportive School Policy


The parents who sued in Maryland haven't shown that their children are being harmed by the policy, a judge wrote.

A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal a lawsuit challenging transgender-supportive guidelines issued by Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest school district.

The decision, released Monday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, affirms a lower court’s dismissal but offers different reasoning.

The suit was filed in 2020 by parents of two Montgomery County students. They claimed the guidelines, adopted in advance of the 2020-2021 school year, violated the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and interfered with their right to raise their children as they see fit.

The guidance advises school staff on how to create support plans for trans and gender-nonconforming students, including use of chosen names and pronouns, along access to restrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams comporting with their gender identity, the Washington Blade reports. Staffers do not have to inform parents or get their consent, but they are allowed to share this information with parents if the student gives permission.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Grimm dismissed the suit, according to news site MoCo360. The “guidelines carefully balance the interests of both the parents and students, encouraging parental input when the student consents, but avoiding it when the student expresses concern that parents would not be supportive, or that disclosing their gender identity to their parents may put them in harm’s way,” Grimm wrote.

The parents appealed to the Fourth Circuit, where a three-judge panel ruled 2-1 Monday that they did not have standing to challenge the guidance, as they have not shown they or their children have been harmed.

“The parents have not alleged that their children have gender support plans, are transgender or are even struggling with issues of gender identity. As a result, they have not alleged facts that the Montgomery County public schools have any information about their children that is currently being withheld or that there is a substantial risk information will be withheld in the future,” Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum wrote for the majority. “Thus, under the Constitution, they have not alleged the type of injury required to show standing.”

“Absent an injury that creates standing, federal courts lack the power to address the parents’ objections to the Guidelines,” he continued. “That does not mean their objections are invalid. In fact, they may be quite persuasive. But, by failing to allege any injury to themselves, the parents’ opposition to the Parental Preclusion Policy reflects a policy disagreement. And policy disagreements should be addressed to elected policymakers at the ballot box, not to unelected judges in the courthouse. So, we remand to the district court to dismiss the case for lack of standing.”

“Simply put, the parents may think the Parental Preclusion Policy is a horrible idea,” he added. “They may think it represents an overreach into areas that parents should handle. They may think that the Board’s views on gender identity conflict with the values they wish to instill in their children. And in all those areas, they may be right. But even so, they have alleged neither a current injury, nor an impending injury or a substantial risk of future injury.”

In a dissent, Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote, “The issue of whether and how grade school and high school students choose to pursue gender transition is a family matter, not one to be addressed initially and exclusively by public schools without the knowledge and consent of parents.”

“The majority reads the Parents’ complaint in this case in an unfairly narrow way and thus denies the Parents the ability to obtain relief, concluding that the Parents have no standing to challenge the Guidelines until they learn that their own children are actually considering gender transition,” he went on. “In reaching that conclusion, the majority is, I submit, unnecessarily subjecting the Parents by default to a mandatory policy that pulls the discussion of gender issues from the family circle to the public schools without any avenue of redress by the Parents.”

Of the district’s 160,000 students, about 350 had set up gender support plans at the end of 2022, according to the Blade.

Montgomery County Public Schools spokesperson Chris Cram praised the majority’s ruling. “MCPS was successful in the challenge against our Gender Identity Guidelines,” Cram told MoCo360. “The appellate court returned the case to the district court and directed that it be dismissed. The case is resolved for now. MCPS supports the determination by the court.”

Frederick Claybrook Jr., an attorney representing the parents, told the site he agreed with the dissenting opinion and that the parents are considering further appeal. That could involve either the full Fourth Circuit court or the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Parents do not have to wait until they find out that damage has been done in secret before they may complain,” Claybrook said. “Moreover, the policy just by being in place affects family dynamics, as the dissenting judge pointed out. We are actively considering next steps in the legal process.”

Montgomery County, which is adjacent to Washington, D.C., has been the scene of other arguments over LGBTQ+ issues in the public schools. A group of Muslim and Christian parents filed suit seeking to block the Montgomery County Public Schools from requiring students to read books by and about LGBTQ+ people. They claim that the school district would be violating their religious freedom if their children were exposed to such content, and they want to be able to opt their kids out of reading the books. A federal judge heard the case last week but has not ruled yet.

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