The Manchester School District’s transgender student policy violates the state constitution which protects the right of parents to raise their children, according to a new filing in the lawsuit brought by a Manchester mother.
The woman, who is known as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, is responding to the district’s motion to have the case dismissed on the grounds that the district has no legal obligations when it comes to telling parents about their child’s activities at school regarding sexual and gender identity.
The response, filed in Hillsborough Superior Court-North in Manchester and written by attorney Richard Lehmann, hits back at the district accusing school officials of interfering with Jane Doe’s rights as a mother by forcing staff to keep secrets from parents.
“Knowledge that the school is actively supporting a child’s decision to transition to a different gender identity when a parent would believe a different response is in the child’s best interests is precisely the kind of information that a parent would be likely to consider in deciding ‘whether’ to send a child to public school or to choose some other option,” Lehmann writes. “However, the policy purposefully and intentionally interferes with the ability of a parent to obtain this information. The defendant argues that it has no duty to advise parents of a student’s transgender expression in schools. This too serves to burden a parent’s right to direct the education and upbringing of children.”
Lehmann also argues that Manchester’s policy, which requires school employees to withhold information from parents and to actively mislead parents at the child’s request, is a violation of New Hampshire’s Constitution’s Part 1, Article 2, which states all people “have certain natural, essential, and inherent rights among which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty . . . and . . . seeking and obtaining happiness.”
Lehmann notes the right of parents to raise their children has been recognized by the New Hampshire Supreme Court as a constitutional right.
“Our Supreme Court has recognized that: [t]he family and the rights of parents over it are natural, essential, and inherent rights within the meaning of the New Hampshire Constitution. Because of their fundamental importance, great judicial deference has been accorded parental rights,” Lehmann wrote.
Jane Doe learned in 2021 that her child, known in the filing as M.C., was using a different gender identity at school than M.C.’s biological sex, according to court records.
When Jane Doe confronted the school staff, M.C. ‘s teachers agreed that she had the right to step in as M.C. ‘s mother and direct staff to use M.C.’s natural identity and gender.
“I do think that a parent should be giving permission for their child to be called by any other name,” one of M.C.’s teachers wrote to Jane Doe.
However, soon after the teachers agreed to use M.C.’s biological identity, the school principal wrote to tell Jane Doe that the district’s policy makes that impossible.
“Good Morning [Jane Doe]. While I respect and understand your concern, we are held by the District policy as a staff. I have quoted our district policy below, which outlines the fact that we cannot disclose a student’s choice to parents if asked not to. If [M.C.] insists on being called [M.C.’s desired name] as a staff we have to respect that according to the policy or unfortunately we can be held accountable despite parents’ wishes,” the principal wrote.
No one in Manchester’s School Administrative Unit would talk to NH Journal in support of the policy. Mayor Joyce Craig, chair of the school board, also declined to defend it. No one on the school board’s policy committee agreed to speak about it, either.
The district claims in its motion seeking to have the case dismissed that the policy does not interfere with Jane Doe’s rights as a parent because she can use M.C.’s biological sex and birth name in the home. But in school, Jane Does has no right to say how her child is to be treated, according to the district’s motion.
“Whatever the scope of a parent’s rights vis-a-vis their transgender or gender-nonconforming children, they do not include the right to force a school district to act as a conduit for the parent exercise of those rights in this fashion,” the district’s motion states.
Lehmann argues the district’s position is akin to a Jewish family asking that their child receive kosher food or a Hindu family asking that her child be given vegetarian food, only to have the school staff keep secrets and lie to parents about what they are feeding the children.
“But when a school affirmatively acts in ways that hide these kinds of facts from parents, they violate the parent’s rights to direct the upbringing of their children, to become engaged in the child’s development, and to exercise their right to provide guidance,” Lehmann wrote.