HomeRights, Justice, and Culture NewsOp Ed: Schools Must Stop Keeping Trans-Secrets from Parents

Op Ed: Schools Must Stop Keeping Trans-Secrets from Parents

The key question American public education faces when it comes to the historically unprecedented rise in childhood gender dysphoria has nothing to do with bathrooms or girls’ sports. Those are important issues, but the single most pressing question is this: will schools notify and defer to parents before treating children as if they are the opposite sex?

One of us works as a lawyer for the Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty, which is currently representing multiple families suing the Madison Metropolitan School District and another group of families suing the Kettle Moraine School District over policies that cut parents out of this critical and highly risky decision in their child’s life. The Madison district’s policy requires teachers and staff to facilitate a “social transition” by referring to children using a new “affirmed name and pronouns” at school “regardless of parent/guardian permission.” The policy requires staff to refuse to inform and even outright deceive parents about what the district is doing.

Similar policies are on the books in major school districts nationwide, from Chicago to Los Angeles to Montgomery County, Maryland. Whole states such as New Jersey have effectively made non-notification and anti-parental-consent statewide policy. An untold number of districts are doing so unofficially. And the Biden Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights may soon interpret Title IX to impose the policy nationwide.

The public education establishment’s desire to treat schools like Las Vegas—what happens at school stays at school—is astonishing in its own right. Public school administrators seem convinced that if a young girl declares herself to be a boy, then that is the simple and incontrovertible truth—and that the only moral and legal course of action is to keep her parents in the dark and disregard their wishes if they believe it to be simply a phase.

But circumventing parents is neither moral nor legal. “Social affirmation” is not simply “being nice.” When children are involved, it is effectively a medical intervention. Dr.  who for decades led one of the world’s top clinics for gender dysphoria, has written that “parents who support, implement, or encourage a gender social transition (and clinicians who recommend one) are implementing a psychosocial treatment that will increase the odds of long-term persistence.”

It’s not hard to see how daily “affirmation” by authority figures that a child is “really” the opposite sex reinforces that belief. Long-term persistence of that belief leads children down a path toward puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, increasing the odds that the child will be sterilized. It is beyond strange, to say the least, that schools send home permission slips to take children to art museums but refuse to notify parents about a de facto medical intervention.

It is also entirely inconsistent with constitutional and legal precedent. As one of us notes in a recent AEI report, the Supreme Court has explained that “our jurisprudence historically has reflected Western civilization concepts of the family as a unit with broad parental authority over minor children.” In another case the Court declared that the “primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition.” Generally, government officials can’t override or even “review such parental decisions.”

While the courts have recognized limited rights for minors that can supersede parental objections, the Supreme Court has also stated that “the constitutional rights of children cannot be equated with those of adults,” due to children’s “inability to make critical decisions in an informed, mature manner” and the “importance of the parental role in child rearing.” Thus, “Parental notice and consent are qualifications that typically may be imposed…on a minor’s right to make important decisions.”

The dramatic shift away from this traditional moral and constitutional precedent has nothing to do with a dispassionate or scientific analysis of the human good. It is rather the product of a mass propaganda campaign that threatens to label any parent concerned for the mental health of their child a “transphobe.” Parents are asked “do you want a dead daughter or a live son” without any informed reference to the long-term outcomes (and harm) from childhood gender transitions, and without any recognition that parents typically know better than anyone else what is best for their child.

There is a sensible intermediate position between keeping parents utterly in the dark, powerless to influence life-changing decisions about their children, and treating parents who facilitate gender-reassignment treatments as child abusers.

That position is simply for public schools to inform and defer to parents. This is all but certainly the most constitutional position. It is also entirely consistent with all moral precedent in American public education, until yesterday. Although no official polling has been done, one must expect this proposition would command significant support among parents. It should be the easiest thing in the world for lawmakers to simply formalize what is both constitutional and traditional in state law.

Unfortunately, it may not be so easy. After the massive media backlash against a Florida bill that prohibited school districts from encouraging sex-talk with students in grades K-3, it seems likely that any bill requiring parental notification would be met with massive media outrage. But a fight for parental rights is a fight worth having.

And fortunately, the media has much less authority over state lawmakers than constituents do. Hopefully most parents still believe they should have at least a shred of authority over their children’s lives—especially in decisions that potentially affect their long-term health and wellbeing.

Originally published by American Enterprise Institute. Republished with permission.


Max Eden and Luke Berg
Max Eden and Luke Berg
Max Eden is a research fellow at American Enterprise Institute. Luke Berg is a deputy counsel at Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty.


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