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ACLU Sides With Schools Over Parents in Transgender Lawsuit

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.

Judge Clears Way for Manchester Homeless Sweep

Backed into a corner by a steady stream of negative press over the city’s homeless crisis, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig got the legal go-ahead to clear a downtown homeless encampment.

Craig announced the evictions earlier this month in response to public outcry over the encampments downtown, with the original plan to clear the streets by Tuesday. However, the New Hampshire ACLU filed for a temporary restraining order to block the city from removing the homeless people, halting Craig’s plans.

On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge John Kissinger ruled the city can remove the approximately 50 homeless people from the sidewalk as the encampment represents a danger to the community at large.

Kissinger cited recent deaths, as well as close to 400 calls for police service at the camp, including assaults and drug overdoses.

“Considering the grave risks to public health and safety posed by the ongoing presence of the encampment on public sidewalks in downtown Manchester and the availability of safe alternatives for the people living in the encampment, a temporary restraining order is not justified,” Kissinger wrote.

Craig announced Tuesday the camps will be cleared Wednesday, with space being made available through a partnership with the YMCA to create a women’s shelter at the former Tirrell House. That space is the result of Gov. Chris Sununu’s intervention at the state level.

The city is also opening a temporary warming shelter with cots at the William B. Cashin Activity Center.

“City employees and non-profit partners have been working around the clock to ensure the health and safety of both the individuals experiencing homelessness in Manchester and the community at large,” Craig said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

Craig’s staff did not respond to NHJournal when asked if there would be enough space for all the homeless people being evicted.

Stephen Tower, a staff attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, expressed disappointment in Kissinger’s ruling and cast doubt on Craig’s ability to adequately shelter the people she is evicting.

“Without a plan to immediately relocate and provide a higher level of shelter and services, this eviction will only perpetuate the cycle of chasing these houseless individuals from place to place, alienating and endangering them further,” Tower said.

Gillies Bissonnette, legal director with the New Hampshire ACLU, did not respond to a request for comment.

Also on Tuesday, Sununu sent a pointed response to a recent letter from Craig and seven other Democratic mayors attempting to shift the blame for their communities’ homeless problems onto the state. Craig, Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess, Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, Franklin Mayor Jo Brown, Dover, Mayor Bob Carrier, Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard, Claremont Mayor Dale Girard, and Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer blamed Sununu in their Jan. 3 letter for not doing enough.

“The state has always and will continue to be open to meaningful collaboration on this issue with your cities and other municipalities across the state,” Sununu wrote. “However, politically motivated letters merely muddy the water and make that mutual goal of collaboration more difficult to achieve.”

Sununu’s letter recounted the millions of dollars the state has already put into dealing with homelessness and housing.

• $100 million for InvestNH to make rapid investments in more affordable housing
• $20 million for families in crisis through this winter
• $4 million to build statewide healthcare access for individuals experiencing homelessness
• $4 million for emergency shelter bed capacity and expansion in addition to our typical$2.9 million annual general fund appropriation
• $2.25 million for the landlord incentive program
• $1 million for winter warming shelters

Meanwhile, Sununu has repeatedly noted Craig and the other mayors are sitting on a combined $73 million in unspent federal funding that could be used on homeless shelters and services.

Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur said if Manchester residents want someone to blame, they should look to the other communities around the state, many with Democratic mayors, who have the resources to shelter some of the state’s homeless but are content to see them shunted off to the Queen City.

“Manchester is the dumping ground for the rest of the state,” Lavasseur told NHJournal. “If every community took just two or four people into their towns, the relief they could provide — not only to the city of Manchester but also these homeless persons — would be incredibly powerful. This has to be a state-wide issue dealt with by all towns, counties, and cities in New Hampshire.

“Manchester cannot continue to do this on its own; and provide our property owners and taxpayers the level of comfort, safety, and quality of life they deserve.”