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Iowa school district sued by parents over transgender student policy – Des Moines Register

A group of Iowa parents is suing the Linn-Mar Community School District in an attempt to block the district’s policy for transgender students.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, alleges the district’s policy violates parents’ constitutional rights, as well as students’ free speech rights.
Linn-Mar, a school district of more than 7,600 students in eastern Iowa, passed its administrative rules for transgender and gender-nonconforming students in late April. The rules outline the processes for transgender students’ name and pronoun use, and accommodations for restroom and locker facilities. The rules say that the wishes of students in seventh grade and older will have priority over their parents on the issues.
District Superintendent Shannon Bisgard said, while speaking to board members in early April, that the policy was meant to codify practices already in use and to provide transparency on those practices for families.  
A spokesperson for Linn-Mar schools did not return a request for comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.
The new lawsuit outlines the concerns of seven parents — all kept anonymous — who said they are concerned they would not have access to information about their children’s gender identity, or that their students could be disciplined for situations in which they choose not to use the right pronouns or otherwise affirm another student who is transgender.
“For a district to encourage students to keep secrets from their parents — to withhold information from families — that’s a really deeply distressing message for a public school system to send to children, with these families’ tax dollars,” said Nicole Neily, the founder and president of Parents Defending Education, which is representing the parents in the suit against the district. 
More: Iowa now records the number of nonbinary students. It’s important to be ‘accurately represented,’ student says
One parent, referred to in the complaint as Parent A, said they open-enrolled their child out of the district before they entered seventh grade because of the policy. That parent said their child is on the autism spectrum an “has difficulty distinguishing between male characteristics and female characteristics”. The parent said they were concerned their child could make statements “that could lead an outside observer to believe that they are confused about their gender identity or expressing a ‘gender-fluid’ or ‘non-binary’ identity.”
Another parent, referred to as Parent C, said their daughter is the only member in her friend group who does not identify as LGBTQ.
“There is a substantial risk that she will receive a Gender Support Plan from school administrators or otherwise receive gender identity-related accommodations from Linn-Mar” against the parent’s wishes, the parent said.
The lawsuit specifically names Linn-Mar superintendent Shannon Bisgard and board members Brittania Morey, Clark Weaver, Barry Buchholz, Sondra Nelson, Matt Rollinger, Melissa Walker and Rachel Wall.
Parents Defending Education, the nonprofit representing the parents, was formed last year. It describes itself a “national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists imposing harmful agendas.”
The attorneys representing the parents on the lawsuit include Alan Ostergren, an Iowa attorney who often provides legal representation on conservative causes, as well as Parents Defending Education’s litigation counsel. 
The Linn-Mar policy, passed by a 5-2 vote in April, drew criticism from many community members, as well as from Gov. Kim Reynolds amid a push for more parental involvement in education, from what books students can read to what sports they can play. According to school board minutes, more than 70 parents rose to speak either for or against the policy during an April meeting. 
Attorney Miriam Van Heukelem, with the Ahlers & Cooney law firm and the district’s legal counsel, told board members that the proposed policies align with federal and state laws, according to meeting minutes.
LGBTQ rights groups have said Linn-Mar’s plan respects the safety considerations of students
Keenan Crow, the director of policy and advocacy for One Iowa, said Linn-Mar is not the only school in Iowa to have such a policy.
“Really, what the crux of this question is about is who gets to control when someone comes out,” Crow told the Des Moines Register. “Coming out is a very anxiety-ridden, sometimes dangerous, process. And so we believe that the best way to go about that process is to let the person coming out control where that information goes and when that information goes out.”
More: More than half of Iowans call education a critical issue, but fewer say the same for ‘school choice’
The new lawsuit comes after Republicans, including Reynolds, have attacked the policy.
Iowa’s Republican state Legislature this spring eliminated a state deadline that prevents parents in many situations from transferring their children from one public school district to another mid-year. Reynolds had said she thought it was concerning that the district passed the policy in April, after the existing March 1 deadline. Democrats said they had concerns about the open enrollment change, saying it could undermine districts’ ability to set a budget by April 15 of every year, the state deadline. 
Reynolds and Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, whose children attend the district, met privately with district parents in May. Reynolds has cited the policy as a reason to support her plan to use state funding for scholarships to help students switch from public to private schools. 
“I think it’s unconscionable that you have school districts saying to seventh graders that you’re going to make decisions and you’re going to decide if your parent knows what you’re doing at school,” she told reporters during a June 3 campaign stop in Grinnell. “That’s not acceptable. It’s not right. They are not their children.”
The Iowa Department of Education previously had guidance on its website that said that students can keep their transgender status private at school and that the district should keep the information confidential. Pronoun preference is a student’s choice, the guidance had said.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported the guidance was removed earlier this year as the department planned to review it for “continued legal accuracy.” 
Ian Richardson covers the Iowa Statehouse for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at, at 515-284-8254, or on Twitter at @DMRIanR.


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