SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Attorney General Sean D. Reyes joined a coalition of 23 state attorneys general in filing an amicus brief led by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen today in support of a California mother who was wrongly shut out of her child’s gender identity decision by a school district, violating her longstanding and fundamental right to direct the care of the child.
Earlier this year, Aurora Regino filed a lawsuit against officials at the Chico Unified School District in California, which violated her constitutional rights when district officials allowed her daughter to socially transition to a boy without informing Regino of her daughter’s decision, following the district’s flawed policy not to inform parents of such decisions unless given express permission by the student. The school’s counselor even advised the child against telling her mother and confiding in another family member instead.
To make matters worse, the daughter’s feelings about being a boy diminished throughout the semester, amplifying her gender-related stress and anxiety since by that time her school community viewed her as a boy. The attorneys general are asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse a district court decision which wrongly ruled in favor of the school district.
The school district violated Regino’s longstanding and fundamental right to direct her child’s care and custody. A century ago, the United States Supreme Court grounded a long-standing common law right in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, securing parents the right to direct the care and custody of their minor children. Since then, the Court has reaffirmed that parental right repeatedly.
The law correctly assumes that children do not have the same capacity for making difficult decisions that adults do, which is why there are many restrictions on children’s rights including the right to vote, enlist in the military without parental consent, or to drink alcohol. Additionally, that same principle is traditionally applied in schools since parental consent is routinely required before a student can receive medication or participate in some school activities.
“School districts can’t shut a parent out of their child’s decision about their gender identity because the school believes the parent isn’t supportive enough of an immediate gender transition,” the attorneys general wrote in the brief. “The District’s policy infringes on Regino’s substantive due process rights by withholding critical information about whether her children have taken any action concerning their gender identity, leaving Regino (and other parents) completely in the dark about her children’s mental and emotional well-being.”
The school district also violated Regino’s fundamental rights by making decisions about her daughter’s gender identity behind her back. The school district’s policy “requires all District personnel to refer to a student by a new name and pronouns at school if the student informs them of their new identity and preferred name and pronouns.” However, the school district may not inform parents of their child’s decision “unless the student specifically authorizes the disclosure, except where disclosure to parents is ‘otherwise required by law’ or there is ‘compelling evidence that disclosure is necessary to preserve the student’s physical or mental well-being’” giving ultimate decision-making authority to the child and depriving parents of their “longstanding, primary role in ensuring their child’s safety and well-being.”
Schools across the country have adopted these dangerous policies, which violate parents’ rights and prevent them from helping their children make crucial decisions about their mental health and identities.
“The explosion of these policies appears to stem from ideologically driven advocacy groups claiming that federal law requires this result. One such group, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), promotes a so-called “model” policy—similar to the District’s—which falsely claims that disclosing a student’s ‘gender identity and transgender status’ without the student’s consent may violate the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA),” the attorneys general wrote. “These federal statutes—no matter how laudable their aims—cannot displace parents’ longstanding right to care for their children.”
Montana Attorney General Knudsen led the effort. Attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia also joined the amicus brief.