A pro-parent ruling
LAW | Court affirms right to opt schoolchildren out of transgender teaching
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Three Pennsylvania mothers—Carmilla Tatel, Stacy Dunn, and Gretchen Melton—say lessons taught to their first grade children at Pittsburgh’s Jefferson Elementary School last year went far beyond encouraging tolerance and kindness. In a lawsuit filed in June, the parents complained that teacher Megan Williams read books and showed videos to their children about transgender topics, telling them to keep their discussions secret from their parents.
Those three parents were vindicated on Oct. 27 when a federal judge chastised school district officials for allowing a teacher to promote her own views on gender dysphoria and gender transitioning. The court’s ruling, which rejected the school’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, does not end the case. Yet the decision from U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti expressed support for parental rights and signals a likely win for the three mothers.
According to the lawsuit, Williams told elementary students that parents and doctors may be wrong about their gender, and that they could be like her own transgender child, a boy whom she treats as a girl. She even went so far as to tell parents she “has an agenda” and intends to teach “right on the edge.” Shocked parents complained to school officials, telling them that what Williams taught was contrary to their religious and moral beliefs. But school officials allowed Williams to continue to address transgender topics and rejected the parents’ requests to have their children opt out of the teaching.
Judge Conti recognized that while some federal appeals courts take a narrow view of parental rights, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals does not. That appeals court interprets federal law in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the Virgin Islands, and its rulings are binding on trial-level district courts.
“Teaching a child how to determine one’s gender identity at least plausibly is a matter of great importance that goes to the heart of parenting,” wrote Conti. “A teacher instructing first graders that the child’s parents’ beliefs about gender identity may be wrong and the teacher’s beliefs are correct directly repudiates parental authority.”
Conti went on to rule that the school had failed to demonstrate a compelling reason why children needed to be exposed to transgender instruction over the objections of parents. She rejected the notion that parents’ fundamental rights to direct the upbringing and education of children must always yield to the school’s interest, but noted that the rule is just “the opposite—the school, absent a compelling interest, must yield to the parents.” The case is now set to continue to full trial.
While Conti’s pro-parent ruling is not yet a common one in school-parent disputes, Ernie Walton, a parental rights expert at Regent University School of Law, said he expects it to become the standard: “I think we will get more of these rulings moving forward given the overt and unashamed indoctrination attempts by public schools relating to critical race theory and gender identity ideology.”
Similar skirmishes between school districts and parents continue around the country, yet Walton is optimistic about the ultimate outcome. “Courts will be forced to take such extreme and absurd positions if they want to justify the actions of these school districts and teachers that I think they will begin to rule in favor of more and more parents.”