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Guidelines about student gender don’t violate parents’ rights, judge says

(Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
3 min

A judge on Thursday dismissed a complaint against the Montgomery County school board by parents who alleged that the system’s student gender-identity guidelines violated their state and constitutional rights.

Three parents, who filed anonymously in 2020 against the Montgomery County Board of Education (MCBE), argued that the guidelines curtailed their ability “to direct the care, custody, education, and control of their minor children,” under the Fourteenth Amendment, according to a memorandum opinion.

The parents said that the Montgomery County Public School “2020-2021 Guidelines for Student Gender Identity” were designed to work around parental involvement “in a pivotal decision” in their children’s lives and that the guidelines enable school personnel to allow children “to transition socially to a different gender identity at school” without parents’ notice or consent.

One provision advised that school personnel speak with the student about the level of support they receive or anticipate receiving at home before contacting the student’s parent, according to the memo. The guidelines also advised schools to develop a gender-support plan with the student and their family “if the family is supportive of the student” — using an MCPS intake form that, according to the filing, which would be kept confidential.

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In the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Judge Paul W. Grimm sided with the MCBE’s argument that the guidelines advance the state’s goal of protecting students’ safety and privacy, according to the memo.

“MCBE certainly has a legitimate interest in providing a safe and supportive environment for all MCPS students, including those who are transgender and gender nonconforming,” Grimm said in the memo. “And the Guidelines are certainly rationally related to achieving that result.”

Grimm also wrote that the parents’ complaint has no “specific allegations” about the application of the guidelines “in counseling their own children.”

The parents complained the guidelines instructed school employees to “withhold information” from them about their children’s gender identity. But Grimm concluded in the memo that the guidelines do not exclude parents or encourage children to distrust them. The parents’ reading was “unsupported,” he said, and the guidelines were designed to be flexible.

“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 said in the memo.

Frederick W. Claybrook Jr., an attorney representing the parents, said he has advised his clients to appeal the decision.

“They are the ones that are to give guidance to their children and to help them through this very important step,” Claybrook said. “Not necessarily to the exclusion of schools, but schools can’t do that to the exclusion of parents, either.”

A Montgomery County Public Schools spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We don’t want our trans kids to be mistreated or bullied or harassed in any way,” Claybrook said. “But we want the parents to be able to help in the transition, to help in the process, not to be excluded from it.”