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Parents sue Leon County Schools over its LGBTQ policies

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 12:36 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 3, 2021 at 12:56 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Parents of a middle school student are suing Leon County Schools in federal court, claiming the district’s LGBTQ policies illegally exclude parents from gender identity discussions.

The lawsuit was filed on Oct. 18 and contends the district’s policies violate their parental rights under the Florida and U.S. Constitution.

The suit says the parent’s daughter, who was a student at Deer Lake Middle School at the time, started expressing confusion about her gender identity in the spring of 2020. The suit says her parents notified the school that she was receiving counseling and told her teacher it was okay for people at school to call her by the nickname “J.”

The parents claim they did not give anyone at the school permission to change their child’s name or pronouns and were alarmed to find out that their daughter had met with officials at the school to discuss her restroom and field trip preferences without their knowledge.

The parents contend the school district’s “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Gender Nonconforming and Questioning Support Guide” expressly advises teachers and staff not to report gender identity discussions to parents. The lawsuit cites this Q&A in the guide:

Q: A student has exhibited behavior in school leading administrators or teachers to believe the student is LGBTQ+. Should the parents or legal guardians be notified?

A: No. Outing a student, especially to parents, can be very dangerous to the students health and well-being. Some students are not able to be out at home because their parents are unaccepting of LGBTQ+ people out. As many as 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+, many of whom have been rejected by their families for being LGBTQ+. Outing students to their parents can literally make them homeless.”

The civil rights suit contends that Leon County Schools Defendants have violated their rights by “implementing a protocol which explicitly circumvents parental notification and involvement in critical decisions affecting their children’s mental, emotional and physical health.”

The parents say they tried repeatedly over the course of the year to have the district change its policies and provide a legal explanation for them, but contend that never happened.

The Leon County School Board, Superintendent Rocky Hanna and Assistant Superintendent Kathleen Rodgers are all named as defendants in the federal lawsuit.

On Wednesday Superintendent Rocky Hanna said he understands all parties need to be involved, including parents, but it’s the district’s job to protect the children.

“We certainly want to include parents, and with the Parental Bill of Rights, I understand that and respect that, but we also have to respect the rights of the individuals, safety of the children we care for each and every day,” Hanna said. “While the children are in our care we act in loco parentis, on behalf of a parent while they’re under our care.”

Hanna added that he apologized to the family and said the district will revamp its policies. That is also cited in the lawsuit.

WCTV is reaching out to the parents and attorneys with the Child and Parental Rights Campaign who are representing them.

In their federal civil rights lawsuit, the parents contend the school district has caused “great harm” to their family.

“The district has driven a wedge between A.G. and her parents, sending the message that her parents cannot be trusted and do not support her best interests. The rift created by the district between A.G. and her parents is profound and unlikely to be fully rectified,” the lawsuit says.

The parents are asking the judge to issue an injunction to block school staff from enforcing its policies or facilitating gender transitions without parental permission while the court case is pending.

There are no future court dates or deadlines listed on the U.S. District Court’s website as of 1 p.m. on Nov. 3.

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