Appeals Court Hears Parents’ Arguments Against School Secrecy on Student Gender Changes

An appeals court has heard the oral arguments of the parents of an 11-year-old girl who say her school attempted to illegally keep her gender transition a secret from them.

Last week, parents Stephen Foote and Marissa Silvestri presented their case before the First Circuit Court of Appeals against the Ludlow, Massachusetts, school committee, who they accuse of attempting to cover up the fact their daughter was transitioning to “genderqueer” at school.

After a teacher who informed the parents of their daughter’s transition was fired, the parents alleged the school’s policy required staff to keep information about a student’s gender transition a secret from parents unless the student consented.

They argued withholding knowledge of their daughter’s transition violated their constitutional rights and disrupted their ability to make sound medical and mental-health care decisions.

However, a U.S. District Court Judge dismissed their claims in December.

Foote and Silvestri appealed to the First Circuit and last Tuesday argued the district court applied the wrong legal standard considering the school’s interference with their parent-child relationship “shocked the conscience.”

The parents’ attorney argued in court that the school counselor had attempted to brainwash the daughter into distrusting her parents.

Here’s a transcript of what the parents’ lawyer stated, courtesy of

[The school counselor] was engaging in private conversations with the child and was questioning her parents’ ability to care for her. Without her parents’ knowledge she … met weekly with her and she would regularly say I don’t know that I [can] keep you safe if you’re not with me. …  I don’t know that your parents’ counselor [i.e., the counselor already hired by the parents for their daughter] is sufficient for you.

I’m concerned that you’re not getting the support you need. None of which she had any any basis for, because she’s not spoken to the parents.

This 11-year-old girl was being told that her parents don’t support her. They don’t love her. They can’t keep her safe. She can’t trust them.

She can only trust the people at the school. … How can she ever trust her parents if the counselor is telling her these things?

The parents’ lawyer also argued the school’s policy prevented the parents not only from giving their permission, but also from having the information they needed to make the proper informed decisions for their child.

A lawyer representing the Ludlow school committee argued that informing parents about matters such as gender transitions could open a slippery slope, potentially requiring disclosure of various other issues.

“If one accepts that gender identity must always be disclosed to parents, then there are any number of other important aspects of the child’s life and personhood that must also be disclosed to parents,” the school’s lawyer argued. “There’s no … limiting principle. …They can’t be required to pick and choose constantly, which information gets shared back. It’s just not tenable.”

Fortunately, the appeals court dismissed the argument, asserting “gender transitions” likely go far beyond any “limiting principle” standard.

“Respectfully [that] doesn’t seem correct to me,” one appeals court judge responded. “I think gender identity is clearly very important to everyone and there are many things that happen in school every day that would qualify as less important than that.”

“So do you really see no limiting principle between something like the gender identity of your child and … who your child may have played with during recess that day? Are you really saying there’s no difference?”

“No, I’m not saying that there’s no difference there,” the school’s lawyer responded. “[But] … the mere failure to convey important information doesn’t shock the conscience.”

“And it’s particularly the case here where the children requested that the information not be shared and where [the parents] are insisting on notice for the purpose of controlling the child’s gender identity.”

While the school’s lawyer claimed the parents were attempting to “control their child’s gender identity,” Legal Insurrection notes the parents had previously testified that a librarian at the school without their knowledge was actively “socially transitioning” students by making them use non-gendered language, holding meetings on genders, affirming trans student alternative names and encouraging them to express a trans identity.

Additionally, the court appeared concerned about the “no-disclosure” policy’s impact on parents’ ability to choose between public and private school.

The court stated:

One of the basic rights that parents have is to decide whether to keep their children in private or public school. … [But] by the school not disclosing important information, they then really lose their ability to make a meaningful decision between do we keep our child in this school or do we make the decision to place our child in a different school?

While the outcome of the case remains to be seen, it’s encouraging the court seemed bothered by the policy that kept parents in the dark.


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