Friday, June 02, 2023

Court Reaffirms Refusal to Dismiss Case Challenging 1st-Grade Teacher's Gender Identity Instruction

In Tatel v. Mt. Lebanon School District (II), (WD PA, May 31, 2023), a Pennsylvania federal district court reaffirmed its prior decision and concluded that parents of first-grade students have asserted plausible claims that their due process and free exercise rights, as well as their rights to familial privacy and equal protection, were violated by a teacher who pursued her own agenda in discussing gender identity with young students.  The court said in part:

This case ... involves not merely instruction to influence tolerance of other children or families, but efforts to inculcate a teacher’s beliefs about transgender topics in Plaintiffs’ own children. ... [T]he allegations in this case go beyond mere reading of a few books. Here, the teacher allegedly pursued her agenda throughout the school year, including teaching first-graders that their parents may be wrong about their gender, telling one boy could dress like his mother, and telling the children to keep the teacher’s discussions about gender topics secret from their parents.... [I]t was the children’s own family and their own gender identity that Williams targeted. Plaintiffs allege that Williams targeted one child for repeated approaches about gender dysphoria despite, or because of, the parents’ beliefs.... It is reasonable to infer that Williams intended to influence the children’s own gender identity and to have at least one child become like the teacher’s transgender child.

In assessing plaintiffs' free exercise claim, the court said in part: 

Plaintiffs allege that Williams’ agenda about gender dysphoria and transgender transitioning conflicts with their sincerely held religious and moral beliefs that “human beings are created male or female and that the natural created order regarding human sexuality cannot be changed regardless of individual feelings, beliefs, or discomfort with one’s identity, and biological reality, as either male or female.”... Plaintiffs contend that Defendants deliberately supplanted the parents’ role to control the instruction of their young children about their gender identity in accordance with their religious values ... and adopted a de facto policy that Williams could continue to advocate her agenda to first-graders in the future without notice or opt out rights for the parents.... As noted, this case is not about teaching kindness or tolerance, but about a teacher’s agenda to instruct first-graders that their parents’ religious beliefs about their own children’s gender are or may be wrong.....

Volokh Conspiracy has additional discussion of the case.