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Federal appeals court dismisses Eau Claire schools transgender policy lawsuit

Ruling says while members of parents group have 'genuine concerns' about parental rights, they haven't been impacted by district's gender guidance to staff

The words "Trans is beautiful" are written on a sidewalk.
Protest attendees draw the words “Trans is beautiful,” on a sidewalk outside the Wisconsin State Capitol on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

A lawsuit attempting to overturn transgender student support guidelines at Eau Claire schools has been dismissed by a federal appeals court.

The suit was filed in 2022 by a group of Eau Claire parents calling themselves Parents Protecting our Children.

The parents alleged an Eau Claire Area School District gender support plan violates their constitutional rights because it doesn’t require notifications if a student asks about changing their names and pronouns, using different bathrooms or playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

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The parents, who are represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, or WILL, and America First Legal, argued allowing a child to make those changes without parental consent violates the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process and Free Exercise clauses.

Last week, the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sided with a lower federal court decision from March 2023, and dismissed the case. The order, written by Magistrate Judge Steven Crocker, states while it’s clear the parents “harbor genuine concerns about possible applications of the School District’s policy” none of the parents, or their children, were affected by the policy.

“No doubt Parents Protecting’s allegations punch with conviction and concern,” said Crocker. “But nowhere does the complaint allege that even one of the association’s members — any particular parent — has experienced an actual or imminent injury attributable to the Administrative Guidance or a Support Plan.

Crocker also said there was no evidence that any of the parents asked the district about how it planned to implement the transgender policy.

A spokesperson for WILL said the firm is “disappointed with the ruling and are evaluating next steps” with regard to a potential appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Eau Claire Area School District Board president Tim Nordin told WPR they’re pleased the courts continue to affirm that the policy hasn’t injured or potentially caused injury” to any parents. He said the policy hasn’t changed since the lawsuit was filed.

“We remain convinced that not only is this supportive for students and for families, but that it’s fully within the rights of the students and families,” Nordin said. “We’re going to continue to support them as best we can.”

Nordin said in almost every situation when a transgender student contacts school staff “they either already have their parents on board with their transition, or if they don’t they want help bringing their families into it.” He said he thinks the controversy related to transgender kids and adults is manufactured.

“It does seem, you know, statewide, and even nationally, that it continues to be a political tool being used to divide people, targeting a very small minority and marginalizing them in the pursuit of some sort of political power,” Nordin said.