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Dane County judge blocks portions of Madison School District's gender identity guidance
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Dane County judge blocks portions of Madison School District's gender identity guidance

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A Dane County Circuit Court judge on Monday temporarily suspended portions of the Madison School District’s guidance on gender identity that a group of unnamed parents and a conservative law firm sued to overturn last winter.

Judge Frank Remington granted a request from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), to bar the district from enforcing parts of the guidance on transgender and nonbinary students related to when and how staff can speak to a parent about a child’s gender transition.

Remington issued the temporary injunction as WILL continues to make the case for allowing its clients to remain anonymous. WILL initially represented 14 parents, but that number has now dropped to six. Remington in May ordered the parents’ names be disclosed to School District attorneys.

WILL has asked the Wisconsin Court of Appeals to allow the case to proceed without releasing the names.

“I think this is a big win,” Luke Berg, deputy counsel for the Milwaukee-based WILL, said of Monday’s order. “This sends a pretty clear warning to the district about its policy, that the policy is concerning and problematic, that the district can’t conceal important information from parents.”

In the February lawsuit, WILL argued the administrative guidance — which is not formally adopted School Board policy — can keep parents in the dark and “actively deceive” them by requiring a student’s permission for staff to notify or talk about a child’s transition, claiming the guidance violates parental and religious freedom rights protected under the state constitution.

But the School District has defended the guidance as a student-centered measure that is meant to protect transgender and nonbinary students, and said the ultimate goal is to involve parents in a student’s transition.

In a statement, the district said it will follow Remington’s injunction, arguing the guidance isn’t designed to “misrepresent or conceal anything from parents.”

The district “prioritizes working in collaboration with families to support our students and it is always our preferred method of support,” the statement says. The district “will continue to prioritize the safety and well-being of every individual student to the best of our ability.”

Attorneys representing three gender- and sexuality-focused student groups in Madison’s high schools are also defending the guidance in the case.

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As part of the temporary injunction, Remington prohibited the School District from enforcing any portion of the guidance that “allows or requires District staff to conceal information or to answer untruthfully in response to any question that parents ask about their child at school, including information about the name and pronouns being used to address their child at school.”

Remington wrote, though, his decision doesn’t create an obligation for staff to notify parents about a child who is transitioning genders.

He issued his ruling orally at a hearing last week and signed the injunction into writing Monday, Berg said.

While Berg called the ruling favorable, he said it doesn’t go as far as what the conservative legal group is seeking.

“This injunction doesn’t require staff to reach out and volunteer the information to parents and notify parents,” he said. “Our argument is you can’t facilitate a transition without parental consent.”

Berg said broader consideration of the lawsuit is on hold as WILL appeals Remington’s order to turn the parents’ names over to the district.

He argues the names of the parents are not relevant to the case and that WILL’s argument revolves around whether the district’s guidance is constitutional and that naming the plaintiffs could open them to harassment.

Berg said the plaintiffs have dropped from 14 to six as parents have either moved out of the Madison School District or pulled children from its schools.

In his ruling, Remington reiterated his decision from May regarding anonymity, saying not providing the identities “unfairly deprives the Defendants a meaningful opportunity to challenge Plaintiff’s factual assertions.”

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