Reported By Dan O’Donnell | OCTOBER 28, 2021
The Oshkosh Area School District in Oshkosh, Wis. will no longer inform parents if their children identify as transgender while at school.
“The Oshkosh Area School District is committed to fostering a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students,” Matthew Kaemmerer, the district’s director of pupil services, said in a recent memo to staff. “District staff members are no longer required to seek parental consent prior to honoring student requests to be called by their preferred name and/or pronouns.”
To officially change their names in the district’s computer system, students will still need to provide documentation of a legal name change. However, the new policy allows teachers and other district employees to treat students as members of the opposite sex without ever informing their parents that they are doing so.
“This change only impacts how a student who is transgender or gender nonconforming is referred to (name and/or pronouns) during school and school activities,” Kaemmerer explained in an email to parents. “District staff will continue to work directly with students who are transgender and gender nonconforming and their families to maintain ongoing communication.”
“This is outrageous,” said one Oshkosh parent. “So, if my son starts identifying as a girl at school but hides it from me, I will never know about it?”
Oshkosh is not a major urban area, where many people might expect to find far-left policies like this. It is a modest-sized Wisconsin town of 67,000 people. The school district oversees nearly 10,000 students, according to federal data. While the city of Oshkosh voted for Joe Biden in 2020, the surrounding county voted for Donald Trump by four points. The area is represented by Republicans and Democrats in state offices.
Last year, the Madison Metropolitan School District announced a nearly identical policy change and faced an immediate lawsuit from parents. A Dane County Circuit Court judge issued an injunction barring the district from enforcing its policy “in any manner that allows or requires District staff to conceal information or to answer untruthfully in response to any question that parents ask about their child at school, including information about the name and pronouns being used to address their child at school.” A final decision on the merits of the lawsuit is still pending, but in both Wisconsin courts and the federal judiciary, the right of parents to have a significant say in the education of their children is well-established.
In 1923, the U.S. Supreme Court in Meyer v. Nebraska struck down a law prohibiting the teaching of foreign languages in school. The court did so in large measure because the Nebraska legislature “has attempted materially to interfere with the calling of modern language teachers, with the opportunities of pupils to acquire knowledge, and with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” This concept of a fundamental right of parents to exercise control over the education of their children was affirmed two years later when the Supreme Court held in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that parents reserved the right to send their children to parochial schools.
“The child is not the mere creature of the state,” the high court explained. “Those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right and the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”
As recently as 2000, the Supreme Court in Troxel v. Granville upheld this right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, declaring definitively that “the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause has a substantive component that provides heightened protection against government interference with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests, including parents’ fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.”
To make such decisions, parents obviously need to be informed of what their children are doing at school, and thus the Oshkosh Area School District’s deliberate attempt to withhold such pertinent information as the sex with which a child identifies represents a clear infringement of parents’ 14th Amendment rights. It also clearly violates the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which requires that “parents or eligible students have the right to inspect and review the student’s education records maintained by the school.”
In spite of this, the Oshkosh Area School District’s new policy is just the latest in a disturbing trend of districts willfully keeping students’ transgender status from parents. Montgomery County Public Schools in Montgomery, Md. announced in 2019 it would no longer disclose to parents the sex with which their children identify at school, prompting a lawsuit from parents. As far back as 2016, the National Education Association’s Legal Guidance on Transgender Students’ Rights instructed teachers and school administrators to “not disclose a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression to others, including other students, parents or guardians…unless required to do so by law or unless the student has agreed.”
This guidance isn’t just erroneous; it is patently unlawful and unconstitutional. Parents have a deep-rooted right to control and direct their children’s education, and in order to exercise this right, they must know information as fundamental as the sex their children assume while at school.
Dan O’Donnell is a talk show host with News/Talk 1130 WISN in Milwaukee, Wis. and 1310 WIBA in Madison, Wis., and a columnist for the John K. MacIver Institute.