Linn-Mar schools sued over new gender-identity policy

By: - August 5, 2022 4:27 pm

A conservative organization is suing an Iowa school district over a policy of facilitating students' gender-identity transitions. (Illustration by Anne-Marie Miller/Getty Images)

A conservative group calling itself Parents Defending Education is suing the Linn-Mar Community School District over its policy of facilitating students’ gender-identity transitions without parental notice.

The lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court, alleges the eastern Iowa school district is flouting nearly a century of Supreme Court precedent that says parents have a constitutional interest in the care and control of their children. It seeks to block enforcement of a school district policy that Parents Defending Education says was enacted in April “over fierce opposition from parents.”

Under that policy, a student can request a Gender Support Plan and the school will meet with the student within 10 days. The policy states that the student should agree with who is a part of the meeting, including whether their parent or guardian will participate.

“Importantly, the district will not tell parents whether their child has requested or been given a Gender Support Plan, whether the child has made requests or actions have been taken concerning their gender identity, or whether it has any other information that would reveal the child’s transgender status,” the lawsuit alleges. “Indeed, the policy openly encourages children to deceive their parents by hiding the name and pronouns that they are using at school.”

The policy in question allows children to create a “gender support plan” to assist in their transition to another gender. Through this plan, the district can, among other things, require all employees and students to address the child by a new name; require all employees and students to address the child by a new pronoun; and allow the child to use the restrooms and locker rooms, and enroll in physical education activities, that correspond with the child’s chosen gender identity.

“These actions can happen without any knowledge or input from the child’s parents,” the lawsuit states. “It is not just secrecy through silence … The district will withhold this information even if it is specifically requested by parents … Parents are completely and purposely left in the dark.”

Policy on pronoun use also challenged

In in its petition, Parents Defending Education notes that “school districts across the country are increasingly excluding parents from decision-making when gender identity is involved.” Such policies run counter to case law recognizing parents’ constitutional right to raise their children but are proliferating across the country, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit questions gender-identity policies, such as the one in the Linn-Mar district, that seek to “compel students to affirm beliefs they do not hold and that are incompatible with their deeply held convictions. So-called ‘preferred pronouns policies’ are an increasingly used method of compelling student speech … Under these types of policies, a student who uses ‘he’ or ‘him’ when referring to a biological male who identifies as a female will be punished for ‘misgendering’ that student.”

Parents Defending Education claims its membership includes seven Linn-Mar parents. A child of one of those parents recently completed the sixth grade at a Linn-Mar elementary school and is on the autism spectrum. The child in question has difficulty distinguishing between male and female characteristics, the lawsuit claims, leaving the parent “deeply concerned” their child will say something at school that will be interpreted as an assertion of transgender identity.

Another Linn-Mar parent who “believes that people are either male or female” has a daughter enrolled in Linn-Mar High School who is only member of her friend group who does not identify as a member of the LGBT community, the lawsuit states. The parent is allegedly concerned that her daughter will request and receive a Gender Support Plan from school administrators.

A third Linn-Mar parent believes “that people are either male or female and that a person cannot ‘transition’ from one sex to another,” the lawsuit states. That parent’s child, the lawsuit says, does not want to be “forced to affirm that a biologically female classmate is actually a male or to refer to a biologically male classmate as a female.”

The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that the district’s policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as an injunction barring the district from enforcing the policy. The district has yet to file a response.

One of the attorneys for Parents Defending Education is Alan R. Ostergren, the former Muscatine County prosecutor who now heads the Kirkwood Institute, a self-described, Iowa-based “conservative public-interest law firm” that has sued several public agencies in Iowa for their policies.

Parents Defending Education is a tax-exempt public charity that describes itself as a “nationwide, grassroots membership organization” of concerned citizens whose mission is to prevent, through advocacy and litigation, “the politicization of K-12 education.”

The Linn-Mar Community School District provides K-12 public education for more than 7,600 students in seven elementary schools, two intermediate schools, two middle schools and one high school.

In addition to the school district, the lawsuit also names as defendants Superintendent Shannon Bisgard and school board members Brittania Morey, Clark Weaver, Barry Buchholz, Sondra Nelson, Matt Rollinger, Melissa Walker and Rachel Wall.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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