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The power [and duty] to prescribe a curriculum designed to promote tolerance


Federal judge rules in favor of Ludlow schools in lawsuit over treatment of transgender students

Published: Dec. 15, 2022, 1:36 p.m. By Stephanie Barry |

SPRINGFIELD - A judge dismissed a federal lawsuit filed by two parents against the Ludlow Public Schools over keeping their children’s gender identities quiet in 2021.

U.S. District Judge Mark G. Mastroianni on Wednesday ruled school officials did not violate the parents’ civil rights when they supported two former Paul L. Baird Middle School students who identified as genderfluid and sought to change their names and pronouns in their classrooms without informing their family.

Four parents last year filed the claim against the Ludlow School Committee, interim superintendent Lisa Nemeth, former superintendent Todd Gazda, Baird Middle School principal Stacy Monette, school counselor Marie-Claire Foley and former librarian Jordan Funke. Only two parents, Stephen Foote and Marissa Silvestri, remained as plaintiffs when the judge decided the case.

Lawyers for the parents in October argued their clients were “hijacked” by school officials. By all accounts, the two children approached teachers and counselors to disclose they were struggling with gender identity and same-sex attraction. Per their own policies and state guidance, school district administrators opted to keep the developments from the adults at the students’ request.

Foote and Silvestri countered in their lawsuit that the scenario amounted to a mental-health issue they insisted should be handled within the family by their chosen counselors. School officials continued to take measures to support the children in-house, according to court filings.

Mastroianni’s ruling cited an anti-discrimination state law passed a decade ago.

“Since July 1, 2012, Massachusetts law has provided that ‘no person shall be excluded from or discriminated against . . . in obtaining the advantages, privileges and courses of study of [a] public school on account of . . . gender identity,’” his ruling quoted.

His order also noted that while parents have the option to send their children to public schools, they do not have constitutional rights to dictate how those schools educate children. An attorney for the school system, David S. Lawless, applauded the judge’s decision in an area of law that continues to be challenged across the country.

“Given the novelty in particular, he addressed both the legal issues in the complaint that was in front (of him) and that it’s an evolving area of the law,” Lawless said Thursday after the ruling came down. “School districts are put in a very difficult position; this is one more guidepost for them along the way.”

The controversy began when the plaintiffs’ children, then 11 and 12 years old, were tasked by Funke to create biographical videos and encouraged them to consider their preferred pronouns.

“Funke invited students to include their gender identity and preferred pronouns in their videos. The students also received instruction about language that is inclusive of students with different gender identities,” Mastroianni’s ruling says.

Funke has since left the Ludlow school system.

The 12-year-old then broached a conversation with a teacher about depression, low self-esteem, poor self-image and possible same-sex attraction, according to court filings. The child’s sibling followed suit, to some extent. With the exception of one teacher who was later fired, teachers and administrators rallied around the students and complied with their requests to keep the information from the adults.

Mastroianni rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the schools tried to do an end-around by offering their own mental health counseling.

“While plaintiffs maintained that defendants were providing mental health treatment when they ‘permitted (the children) to be identified as either nonbinary or the opposite sex of what their bodies are,’ the amended complaint alleges insufficient facts for the court to conclude that the conduct at issue constituted mental health treatment,” his ruling said.

“Addressing a person using their preferred name and pronouns simply accords the person the basic level of respect expected in a civil society generally, and, more specifically, in Massachusetts public schools where discrimination on the basis of gender identity is not permitted,” it said.



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