A federal lawsuit challenging Montgomery County Public Schools’ gender identity guidelines was dismissed this week.
In late 2020, parents of two MCPS students filed the lawsuit, saying the district’s guidelines violate the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), among other laws. The parents objected to guidance that says staff members should not disclose to parents the gender a student chooses to identify as at school unless the student approves.
Essentially, the parents argued the guidelines violated their state and federal constitutional rights to their children’s information and to “direct the care, custody, education, and control of their minor children,” according to court records.
On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Grimm dismissed the case, saying the district’s “guidelines carefully balance the interests of both the parents and students, encouraging parental input when the student consents, but avoiding it when the student expresses concern that parents would not be supportive, or that disclosing their gender identity to their parents may put them in harm’s way.”
In a statement Saturday morning, MCPS said the court “rightly found that our Guidelines for Gender Identity actively encourage familial involvement in developing and implementing a transgender or gender noncomforming student’s ‘Gender Support Plan’ whenever possible.”
The statement said the court also correctly found the guidelines align with the commitment of the district and the county school board to nondiscrimination and protecting students’ safety and privacy.
In the lawsuit — initially filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court in October 2019 and moved to federal court in late December 2019 — the two families say MCPS is “evaluating” minors and allowing them to socially transition genders without consent.
The guidelines “prohibit personnel from communicating with parents about this potentially life-altering and dangerous choice, unless the minor child consents,” the parents argued.
The guidelines do not explicitly say the information should be withheld from parents if it is requested, but do suggest staff members should not willfully provide the information.
Adopted in 2019, the comprehensive guidelines say MCPS staff members should use the student’s legal name and pronouns that correspond to the student’s sex assigned at birth when communicating with their parents or guardians — unless the student says it’s OK to do otherwise.
The guidelines also say that just because a student shares their identity with staff members or other students “does not authorize school staff members to disclose students’ status to others, including parents/guardians.”
Disclosing information about students’ gender identity to their guardians could violate FERPA, the guidelines say.
The parents who filed the lawsuit are not identified. The complaint says the MCPS policy changes do not directly affect their children, who are enrolled in the school district.
The parents had asked the federal court to declare that the MCPS guidelines violate state and federal law and impose injunctions preventing their implementation.
In the memorandum explaining the lawsuit’s dismissal, Grimm wrote that MCPS clearly outlines in the guidelines that familial involvement is preferred and encouraged, but only to the degree that it does not jeopardize a student’s well-being.
He wrote that parents do not have a “fundamental right” to be informed “of their child’s gender identity, when it differs from that usually associated with their sex assigned at birth, regardless of their child’s wishes or any concerns regarding the detrimental effect the disclosure may have on that child.”
MCPS’ gender identity guidelines also include definitions of common LGBTQ phrases, information about different names and pronouns, and guidance concerning the student dress code, bullying and gender-separated activity areas such as locker rooms.