New Hampshire moms and dads lose the right to parent their children once that child enters a public school, according to the New Hampshire ACLU.
The state’s largest civil liberties organization is standing with the Manchester public schools and against a local mom suing the district over a policy that directs staff to lie to parents about the sexual and gender behavior of their own children while at school.
“Schools and parents are natural partners in advancing the education and well-being of their students. At the same time, schools must control the learning environment for the benefit of all students,” the ACLU’s brief stated.
The mother, known as Jane Doe in her lawsuit, is appealing her case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court after Hillsborough Superior Court Judge Amy Messer ruled parents ultimately do not have the right to direct how their children are to be educated in public schools.
“(T)he right to make decisions about the care, custody, and control of one’s child is not absolute,” Messer wrote.
Republicans have responded by filing a Parents Bill of Rights in the legislature, a measure that polls show has overwhelming support among Granite State voters.
Jane Doe’s attorney, Richard Lehmann, said Wednesday the ACLU is backing a policy that flies in the face of the constitutional rights of parents.
“Manchester has taken the position that parental rights should not pass the schoolhouse door,” Lehmann said.
Jane Doe stated in her original complaint that she found out in the fall of 2021 her child was using a different pronoun and gender identity at school. The school’s name was withheld in court documents to protect the child’s identity.
The mother spoke with the school staff, including the student’s guidance counselor. The mother made it clear she wanted her child to be called by the name and pronouns the child had at birth while in school, according to the lawsuit.
Even though the staff she spoke to initially agreed, the mother soon received an email from the school principal stating that, due to district policy, the mother’s instructions were being overridden. The principal stated the policy required school staff to keep such matters secret from parents if the child so chooses, according to the lawsuit. Even if staffers agree to use the child’s true gender identity when speaking with the mother, they would be obligated not to tell the mother if the child wished to be identified as something else.
The policy states teachers and staff are not to tell anyone about a child’s gender identity without the express consent of the child. School employees are also directed to use the child’s biological pronouns and given name when talking about the child to people who do not know about the nonconforming gender identity.
While the ACLU traditionally supports individual citizens in the face of government action, in this case, it is siding with education officials at the government-run school. Their brief claimed school staff often knows things about children their parents do not, and that staffers should not be required to tell parents anything unless the student agrees.
“To force a disclosure by the school that in all likelihood would otherwise come directly from the student voluntarily once the young person is ready, or when parents raise questions about their own observations with the young person, would be the very insertion into family relationships to which the plaintiff-appellant objects,” the ACLU wrote.
That schools-over-parents stance is also held by the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Chairman Ray Buckley claims if parents are informed about the behavior of their children “some kids will be beaten to death.” (There are no known incidents in New Hampshire of a child being beaten to death by a parent over their sexual or gender behavior.)
Lehmann agrees with the ACLU that schools do need a certain amount of autonomy, but said the ACLU and the Manchester School District are ignoring the fact that parents are the primary educators for their children, a role enshrined in the New Hampshire Constitution.
“(The schools) have to control the learning environment while adhering to all the other constitutional norms that permeate our society, including parental rights,” Lehmann said.
Lehmann said a law affirming the rights of parents could clarify the matter. New Hampshire Republicans tried and failed to pass a parental bill of rights during the last legislative session. The proposal died after Gov. Chris Sununu signaled he would veto the bill over concerns raised by New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella about the privacy and safety of students.
A new Parents Bill of Rights, sponsored by House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) and Senate Majority Leader Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry) is currently before the legislature.