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Harrisonburg High School

Yet another Virginia school district usurps role of parents

Harrisonburg City Public Schools tells staff to disregard and even mislead parents in favor of student preferences about pronouns, gender identity

Friday, Jan 14, 2022

HARRISONBURG, Va. – Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Friday to Harrisonburg City Public Schools on behalf of a group of parents and teachers to inform the district that its policy of hiding information from parents when a student expresses discomfort with their biological sex at school is unconstitutional.

Harrisonburg is the third situation to prompt legal action in recent months over Virginia school districts adopting policies that usurp the constitutional rights of teachers or parents, including the legally protected role of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, in favor of indoctrination by school officials. ADF attorneys are currently involved in lawsuits against unconstitutional policies in Loudoun and Albemarle counties, as well as legal matters in other states, such as Wisconsin.

“Parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children. Public schools shouldn’t hide information about a child from the child’s parents or undermine parents’ decisions regarding what is best for their child’s physical, mental, and emotional needs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson, director of the ADF Center for Parental Rights. “Parents and teachers have been taking a stand for their legally and constitutionally protected freedoms in Virginia. Commonwealth officials at the highest levels should likewise take note of this growing problem in Virginia’s school districts and ensure that the role of parents is respected and protected.”

Harrisonburg City Public Schools detailed its policies and practices in a staff presentation titled “Supporting Our Transgender Students” about the use of student pronouns and communication with parents on gender issues. The district directed all staff to “[a]lways utilize a student’s preferred name and pronouns,” based solely on a student’s request, and in some circumstances to hide that information from parents: “If the parent/guardian is NOT aware, you should utilize the student’s preferred name at school but not in any communication with the parent/guardian.”

As the ADF letter on behalf of parents and teachers explains, the district’s policy of mandating “preferred” pronouns and hiding that information from parents violates the free speech and free exercise rights of staff members and the fundamental rights of parents to make decisions concerning the upbringing and care of their children. The school district adopted a policy that requires staff to take a one-size-fits all approach to any children struggling with their biological sex while withholding important information about the wellbeing of children from their parents.

“The HCPS policy and practices take this life-altering decision out of parents’ hands—and knowledge—and places it with educators, who have no expertise whatsoever in these matters, and with minors, who lack the ‘maturity, experience, and capacity for judgment required for making life’s difficult decisions…,’” the ADF letter explains. “We demand that you immediately rescind the practices outlined in the HCPS ‘Supporting Our Transgender Students’ presentation because it violates the free speech, religious freedom, and parental rights of HCPS teachers and parents.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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ABOUT Kate Anderson

Kate Anderson serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is the director of the Center for Parental Rights. Since joining ADF in 2015, Anderson has focused on protecting the conscience rights of individuals being unjustly compelled to forfeit their beliefs under threat of government retaliation, heavy fines, or other punishment. Prior to joining ADF, Anderson was an associate attorney with Ellis, Li & McKinstry, PLLC, in Seattle, where she litigated both civil and criminal cases. She obtained her law degree magna cum laude in 2009 from Gonzaga University School of Law, where she served on the Gonzaga Law Review. She is admitted to the state bars of Arizona and Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court, and several federal district and appellate courts.