Four parents have filed a lawsuit against the Ludlow School Committee and several school officials claiming they have violated their rights by choosing not to tell parents when children seek to establish a new gender identity at school, court records show.
Stephen Foote and Marissa Silvestri, parents of two children in Ludlow schools, and Jonathan Feliciano and Sandra Salmeron, who also have two children in the district, claim the district’s policy affirming transgender students’ identities violates the US and Massachusetts constitutions, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in US District Court in Springfield.
The lawsuit does not identify the policy.
But the Sunday Globe Magazine reported in September that the Ludlow schools allow students to choose their own pronouns and names, and that school staff cannot discuss a child’s gender identity with a parent, without the child’s consent.
But in their lawsuit, the parents say the district has not adopted a formal written policy on the practice, in violation of a state requirement, according to the 58-page filing.
Foote and Silvestri’s objections to the policy began when their child’s sixth-grade class at the Paul R. Baird Middle School made a video in which students were asked to state their gender identity and preferred pronouns, according to the filings.
As defendants, the parents named the School Committee, interim Superintendent Lisa Nemeth; former superintendent Todd Gazda; Stacy Monette, the middle school principal; school counselor Marie-Claire Foley; and former library media specialist Jordan Funke, documents show.
School Committee Chair James P. “Chip” Harrington said in an e-mail, “I still have not seen the actual lawsuit so I am in no position to comment further on that specific issue.”
In a follow-up message, Harrington pointed to a comment about the district’s policy on transgender students that he made in an interview Thursday with news website MassLive.
“It’s a slippery slope,” Harrington told MassLive. “We want to support our students the best we can. But we should bring parents to the table, and hope they respond in a loving and supportive way as well.”
Funke also said they had not yet seen the allegations.
“I have not been informed about the case so I have no comments,” Funke said in an e-mail.
Monette said in an e-mail that “there is more to this story,” and declined to comment further.
Nemeth, Gazda, and Foley did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Andrew Beckwith, president of the Wakefield-based Massachusetts Family Institute, a conservative Christian organization, is serving as the parents’ attorney in the case.
“This lawsuit is about protecting the right of parents to raise their children without the interference of government officials,” Beckwith said in a statement. “By deliberately circumventing the authority of parents over the mental health and religious beliefs of their children, activists at the Ludlow schools are violating time-honored rights guaranteed under the US Constitution and the Massachusetts Constitution.”
The suit alleges that in September 2019, Funke told incoming sixth-graders at the middle school to make videos that included their gender identity and preferred pronouns, including Foote and Silvestri’s child, then 11, and did not seek parents’ consent, according to the filings.
The documents refer to the child as Foote and Silvestri’s daughter, but the child has described themselves as genderqueer and asked to called by a traditionally male name, according to the filings.
Foote and Silvestri said they told school administrators that they objected to the video assignment and were told that it would not be repeated without consent from parents, court papers say.
On Dec. 14, 2020, their child told their teacher that they were “experiencing insecurity, low self-esteem, poor self-image, and a perceived lack of popularity,” since telling a friend that that they like girls, the documents say.
The child said they were depressed and needed help but weren’t sure how to talk to their parents. Three days later, the teacher spoke with Silvestri, and they agreed to work together, with the parents scheduling therapy for their child and the teacher giving the child craft activities after school, the filings say.
A few days later, Silvestri sent an e-mail to the School Committee, Monette, Gazda, and her child’s teachers, asking them not to have private discussions with the child about their mental health, the suit says.
Silvestri and Foote allege that Gazda, Monette, and the teachers disregarded their wishes and say their child has changed their preferred name at school at least twice since December 2020 without their consent, with educators calling the child by their preferred name, the filings say.
School staff also disregarded Foote and Silvestri’s wishes regarding their older child, who is described in the lawsuit as their son, but who identifies as transgender and has asked to be called by a traditionally female name, according to the filings.
Foote and Silvestri then approached Monette about their concerns, but she was dismissive and implied “that the school knew better than the parents what was best for [their children] with regard to the gender identity issue,” according to the filings.
After their younger child’s teacher shared with Silvestri and Foote an e-mail in which the child asked to be called by a male name, Monette fired the teacher, according to the lawsuit.
The parents are asking for declarations that their rights were violated, that the gender identity policy is rescinded, and that school employees must communicate with parents regardless of their child’s consent, among other remedies.
Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.