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New York mother sues school district for infringing on parental rights

Lawsuit alleges the school started treating her daughter as a boy without parental knowledge or consent

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New York mother sues school district for infringing on parental rights

On Wednesday, a mother of three filed a lawsuit against a New York school district for violating her parental and religious rights. Jennifer Vitsaxaki alleges the Skaneateles Central School District treated her daughter as a boy without her knowledge or consent.

According to the lawsuit, Vitsaxaki had trusted the New York school district to help her daughter, referred to in the suit by the pseudonym “Jane,” to thrive. Jane had struggled with anxiety and depression for several years. When Jane was in elementary school, her mother collaborated with school staff to best support her daughter, and continued to attempt to do so when Jane moved to middle school.

When Jane started seventh grade in 2020, her mental health worsened. Her grades dropped and she lost motivation to attend school. While Vitsaxaki regularly contacted school officials for more information, they assured her that Jane was fine.

After several months, Vitsaxaki finally learned that Skaneateles Middle School officials had instructed all employees to treat the then 12-year-old girl as a boy without informing her mother. Jane had been put in multiple meetings a week with counselors and school district employees about how to “transition” to the opposite gender. Staff also referred to her by a different name and pronoun.

By concealing this and acting without Vitsaxaki’s permission, the school violated her constitutional rights, said Kate Anderson, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Parents have the fundamental freedom to direct the education of their kids, and that’s what is at the heart of this case,” Anderson said. The suit, filed by ADF in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, points to the rights that Vitsaxaki has under the 14th Amendment. That amendment requires parental consent for any decisions involving children’s healthcare, even for decisions as simple as giving kids aspirin while at school, Anderson said.

Vitsaxaki, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, also has protected religious rights that enable her to raise her daughter according to her beliefs, Anderson added.

Skaneateles school officials justified their actions through a district policy adopted in 2018. The policy states that “Transgender and [gender nonconforming] students have the right to discuss and convey their gender identity and expression openly and to decide when, with whom, and how much to share this confidential information.”

The policy does not mention any need for parental consent, Anderson said.

“[The policy] not only violates parental rights, but it’s dangerous for kids. Kids who are struggling with their identity need their parents to be able to walk alongside them, to help them with everything they are struggling with,” Anderson said. “This particular girl was dealing with a lot of depression and anxiety and it was coming out in this way. And she didn’t have her mom with her for a period of time because the school was keeping that information from mom.”

WORLD reached out to Skaneateles Central School District for comment but did not hear back prior to publication.

Vitsaxaki learned of the district’s deceit when one staff member urged officials to tell the mother. Officials then told Vitsaxaki in a phone call, according to the lawsuit. Unbeknownst to her, the official had the call on speakerphone while her daughter listened in to the conversation.

Following this, Vitsaxaki and her husband, Jane’s father, asked for school employees to stop referring to Jane by a different name and pronoun. Some staff continued to act otherwise.

The parents later withdrew their daughter from the school. Jane is now attending a private school where her grades have improved and she participates in several extracurriculars. She is happy, healthy, and set in her identity, Anderson said.

Cases like the Vitsaxakis’ have increased across the country in recent years, Anderson said. More schools are implementing policies that allow them to conceal information from parents when children wish to identify as the opposite gender.

In December, ADF filed a suit against a Michigan school district that treated a middle school girl as a boy without parental knowledge or consent. Last April, mother Amber Lavigne filed a complaint against a school in Maine that began helping her then 13-year-old daughter identify as a boy—at one point even providing her with a chest binder—without Lavigne’s permission. While her case is still pending, a judge questioned in November if the case has legal standing.

While many of these cases are still early in the legal process, a Wisconsin court handed down a win in October for parental rights. Waukesha County Circuit Court ruled in parents’ favor, stating that a similar school district policy violates constitutional rights.

Because of the wave of cases, this issue is likely to make its way to the Supreme Court, Anderson said.

“Parental rights are important. Kids who are struggling with gender identity, with any issue, need their parents to be able to walk alongside them, and parental rights provide that ability for parents to get the information they need from schools,” Anderson said. “Schools should never be hiding information and lying to parents about anything considering their kids.”

Liz Lykins

Liz is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.


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