NJ Parent: “They’re making it like they’re suing the Board of Ed. [But] they’re suing the parents and they’re suing the taxpayers who support the Board of Ed.”
In New Jersey, the battle over secret social transitioning in schools took a sinister turn last week when a judge temporarily blocked three school districts from notifying parents about their children’s gender struggles.
The lawfare leading up to the judge’s ruling has parents in those districts enraged and frustrated. Though they and their families have the most at stake, they are not parties to the case, leaving them without a direct say in the litigation.
In this respect, the Garden State legal battle stands out from other cases we’ve covered here and here. Typically, lawsuits over gender identity guidelines are brought by parents against their school districts. Parents are the plaintiffs, asserting their right to be notified when their children say they want to change genders. Their constitutional rights to direct their children’s upbringing, they argue, outweigh “safety concerns” and “trans rights.”
However, in this new twist to the conflict, the State of New Jersey has sued three of its own school districts for adopting policies that uphold parents’ rights to be notified when their children show signs of gender confusion. Here the State is the plaintiff, seeking to override the school boards’ authority.
While their names won’t appear on the court filings, the parents who elected those school boards to protect their interests have been put on defense. As a parent in one of the school districts told Fox News, “They’re making it like they’re suing the Board of Ed. [But] they’re suing the parents and they’re suing the taxpayers who support the Board of Ed.”
The three Monmouth County, NJ school districts—Marlboro, Middletown, and Manalapan—each adopted their new parental notification policies on June 20, 2023. Although the language of the policies varies, they each require the school to notify parents when their children assert a gender identity change. The State filed its lawsuit to block them the next day.
It’s hard to see the State’s good-faith argument against the school districts’ policies. Their purpose is to make sure parents are involved when their minor children—children as young as five—say they belong to the opposite sex. When you consider that parental notification is required for much less, for example, giving Tylenol or going on field trips, it makes no sense.
But while parents have civil rights, so do their kids, including their trans kids, the State argues. It had to sue the school districts to protect those rights, New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy recently explained to host Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation:
NEW JERSEY GOV. PHIL MURPHY: Listen, we took these actions, because it’s the right thing to do to protect these precious young people. … But parents are always involved. … In our administration, they’re always at the table, and they always will be. But let’s be smart about this. Let’s protect the rights of these precious kids. … And I think if we do that, in a spirit of respecting everyone’s rights, protecting the LGBTQIA+ community, we’ll land in a good place.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, one of the attorneys for a school board in Marlboro, one of these districts, said that this blocking of a school counselor or a staff member from telling a parent about this is a violation of a constitutional right for a parent to direct and control the upbringing of their children. Why isn’t that compelling?
GOV. MURPHY: Obviously, parents are the existential reality in the upbringing of any child without question. I don’t deny that for one second. But let’s not violate the … constitutional and civil rights of precious young folks. … Let’s be all in this together as opposed to this … demonizing. And when that happens, invariably, it’s the LGBT community that gets it, particularly trans folks who get behind the eight ball.
That is the State’s argument against the policies: that they discriminate against students on the basis of gender identity. New Jersey Superior Court Judge David Bauman agreed last week when he blocked the school districts from notifying parents while the State’s other legal proceedings against them in the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights are ongoing. The State, for purposes of the preliminary injunction, had shown that the school’s rules discriminated against trans and LGBTQIA+ students. Their rights are protected under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, and they outweighed parents’ rights, the court held.
From the court’s ruling:
[I]t is … settled that the right of parental oversight is not immutable; that it should and must yield where the State can demonstrate a compelling governmental interest. At this preliminary juncture, the State has done so: to ensure that a protected class under a state law against discrimination does not suffer either disparate treatment or disparate impact because of policies requiring parental notification where a student requesting a transgender accommodation or expressing transgender identification specifically requests that their parents or guardian not be notified.
The State’s action is not targeting parental rights per se, but rather policies promulgated by school boards that the State contends unlawfully subjects a protected class to discrimination in violation of the LAD [New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination]. That is a subtle but critical distinction.
And a convenient one, too. Because reframing the conflict between parents and the State as one over protecting “trans rights” provides the State with the pretext to assert control over the children entrusted to its care—without having to confront their parents and their pesky rights in the courtroom. At least not directly.
According to last week’s ruling, the State doesn’t have to. It can simply sue the local school boards who dare defy it, in the name of protecting the “civil rights of precious young folks.” All the while claiming, as Attorney General Matthew Platkin did last week, that the State has never sought “a ‘ban’ on parental notification.”
And it can do so just at a time when the parents’ movement is gaining momentum in its battle to take those school boards over, which now begs the question, to what end?
Meanwhile, as the litigation plays out, the three school boards hang in limbo. Marc Zitomer, the attorney for the Marlboro school board, said it could “take years” for those proceedings to resolve. Until then, “the school district is now severely constrained in its ability to notify parents about important issues involving their minor children.”
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