Parents sue Massachusetts public school district for hiding their children's genderqueer status
Parents of middle school children have filed a federal lawsuit accusing a Massachusetts school district of violating their rights by keeping their children's gender-nonconforming status a secret from them. According to the suit, Foote and Silvestri have a biological girl who identifies as genderqueer, and a biological boy who identifies as transgender. The parents have alleged that staff and administrators at Paul L Baird Middle School actively kept their children's gender-nonconforming status and new pronouns a secret. Their parental rights, they said, were violated.
Another set of parents - Feliciano and Salmeron - too have filed the suit. Although the suit doesn't specifically mention their children, it alleged that the district's policy on gender identity violates their right to free exercise of religion. Their religious beliefs, they said, require truthfulness and obedience to parents. They also believe children are created as either male or female.
"It's a slippery slope. We want to support our students the best we can. But we should bring parents to the table, and hope they respond in a loving and supportive way as well," Ludlow School Committee chairman James 'Chip' Harrington told MassLive. The 58-page lawsuit mostly focuses on Foote and Silvestri's biological female child, identified only as B.F. She was reportedly 11 and a sixth-grader when the class was asked to make a video describing their gender identity and preferred pronouns back in 2019.
"The videos of their children were created without the parents' knowledge or consent and it remains unknown how these videos were used or who was allowed to view them," the suit said. Later in 2020, B.F. met with a teacher virtually to discuss mental health struggles like insecurity, low self-esteem, and poor self-image. She allegedly told the teacher she was attracted to girls. B.F. said she had been watching YouTube videos that said she was born that way and was not sure how to open up to her parents and subsequently get help.
The teacher contacted her mother Silvestri after the student agreed, and described her concerning mental health issues. B.F.'s parents then retained a therapist to help her. The complaint states that in December 2020, Silvestri sent an email to many of her daughter's teachers and members of the school committee to thank them for their concern. However, she requested, "do not have any private conversations with B.F in regards to this matter." "Please allow us to address this as a family and with the proper professionals," the mother wrote.
According to the complaint, B.F. sent an email to teachers, administrators, and the school counselor the following year. "Hello everyone, If you are reading this you are either my teacher or guidance counselor. I have an announcement to make and I trust you guys with this information," B.F. wrote. "I am genderqueer. Basically, it means I use any pronouns (other than it/its). This also means I have a name change. My new name will be R****. Please call me by that name. If you deadname me or use any pronouns I am not comfortable with I will politely tell you. I am telling you this because I feel like I can trust you. A list of pronouns you can use are: she/her he/him they/them fae/faerae/aer ve/ver xe/xem ze/zir. I have added a link so you can look at how to say them. Please only use the ones I have listed and not the other ones. I do not like them. Thank you. R*** Foote."
The suit said that the guidance counselor 'replied all' to the email, telling teachers that they must not talk to the parents about her new pronoun preferences or gender identity. When the parents finally learned the truth, they said they wanted the truth to be handled as a private family matter. The complaint also said that the school also did not inform them that their other child, a biological boy, had "identified as transgender and requested to be called by a female name."
The suit said that former district superintendent, Todd Gazda, insulted the parents during a public School Committee meeting. Todd allegedly said that their concerns amounted to "intolerance of LGBTQ people thinly veiled" behind a "camouflage of parental rights." Todd also allegedly said, "For many students school is their only safe place, and that safety evaporates when they leave the confines of our buildings." The lawsuit alleged that the defendants "have acted and are acting with reckless disregard for Plaintiffs' fundamental parental rights by purposefully and intentionally concealing critical information regarding the upbringing and care of their children."
The School Committee, interim superintendent Lisa Nemeth, former superintendent Todd Gazda, Baird Middle School principal Stacy Monette, school counselor Marie-Claire Foley and former librarian Jordan Funke are named as defendants. "Defendants have violated and are violating Plaintiffs' fundamental right to make decisions regarding the upbringing, education, custody, care, and control of their children," the complaint said.