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Wisconsin judge blocks school district’s policy allowing students to choose pronouns

Decision could set precedent in school district parental rights cases across the state

An empty classroom
An empty classroom is pictured at the MHS, Meo High School private college, in Paris on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Francois Mori/AP Photo

A Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge blocked a school district’s policy to allow students to change their names and gender pronouns in school, a decision that could set a precedent in Wisconsin parental rights cases.

Judge Michael Maxwell ruled that the Kettle Moraine School District’s policy violates the right of parents to make medical decisions for their children.

Going forward, Kettle Moraine School District may not allow or require staff to refer to students using a name or pronouns at odds with the student’s biological sex without express parental consent.

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The decision comes after parents filed a lawsuit in 2021 alleging that district officials improperly used a male name and male pronouns to address their 12-year-old daughter without their consent and over their objections.

The girl was questioning her gender identity at the time but eventually decided that she didn’t want to transition, according to court documents.

Two conservative activist law firms, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and the Alliance Defending Freedom, filed the lawsuit on the parents’ behalf.

“This victory represents a major win for parental rights,” WILL deputy counsel Luke Berg said in a statement. “The court confirmed that parents, not educators or school faculty, have the right to decide whether a social transition is in their own child’s best interests. The decision should be a warning to the many districts across the country with similar policies to exclude parents from gender transitions at school.”

Kettle Moraine School District Superintendent Stephen Plum said officials will continue to work with all students, parents, guardians, and staff to clarify expectations.

“We respect the rights of parents and continue to require written parental consent if and when using a student’s name or pronouns at odds with the student’s sex at birth,” Plum said in a statement.

The issue of parental rights around topics such as students’ gender identity has become a heated discussion nationally and in Wisconsin in public education, discussed in political campaigns around everything from curriculum choices to COVID-19 policies to race and gender.

Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a “Parent Bill of Rights” passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature in April 2022. The bill would have given parents the right to review instructional materials and determine a child’s medical care. The bill also allowed parents and guardians to sue governments and officials who violated those rights.