The parents of a Leon County school student have filed a lawsuit against school officials for violation of parental rights in an effort to stop enforcement of the district’s transgender-affirming “guidance” for their minor-aged daughter that was kept secret from the parents.
As reported by The Epoch Times in August, January Littlejohn of Tallahassee, Florida, was horrified to discover that school officials held a secret meeting with her 13-year-old daughter to discuss how the school would accommodate her decision to be acknowledged as non-binary and use an alternate name at school. The plan made it clear to staff that the parents were not “aware and supportive of their child’s gender transition.” Therefore, while the school psychologist/social worker, principal, assistant principal, counselor, student teachers, substitute teachers, and the child’s peer group were allowed to know what was going on, the use of “privacy when speaking to parents” was listed as one of the “considerations” that “must be accounted for in implementing this plan.”
According to the Leon County School District’s Transgender/Gender-Nonconforming Student Support Plan—filled out during a Sept. 8, 2020, private meeting and first obtained by The Epoch Times—a “checklist” was used to record the child’s new non-binary status, “preferred name,” and “preferred pronouns.” The child also determined which bathroom she preferred using and that she would “be comfortable rooming w/either sex” on overnight school trips. This opened the door to having the 13-year-old girl rooming with teenage boys without her parents’ knowledge.
Through the series of emails and meetings between January and Jeffrey Littlejohn, their attorney and Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna—which followed the discovery of the secret meeting—Hanna eventually conceded in a May 24, 2021 letter addressed to Mary McAlister—lead counsel for the Littlejohns—that “there was no basis to exclude” the parents from the private meeting. In the letter—also obtained by The Epoch Times—Hanna also said “a revised Q&A specific to the Littlejohn’s concern was provided to the administrators reiterating the directive to promptly contact parents of students who identify as LGBTQ+.” In conversations with the Littlejohns, Hanna further admitted the passage of H.B. 241, the Florida Parents’ Bill of Rights, “changed everything” in this matter.
Leon County Schools Equity Officer Kathleen Rodgers also told The Epoch Times in August that the district was “working to put together a more detailed policy to be more inclusive of the Parent Bill of Rights” and that “a committee” would meet “in the next few weeks to tweak policies and begin the process to present them to the School Board for adoption.”
The Broken Promises
“We have been meeting with the district for over a year and we were holding faith in what the superintendent was telling us,” January Littlejohn told The Epoch Times the day after the lawsuit was filed, “They said ‘you’re absolutely right, you should have been included,’ and ‘from here on out parents will be included.’ We thought that hiring attorneys would let them know we were serious and that passing the Parents’ Bill of Rights and having that signed into law would be enough.”
However, while the Littlejohns believed their July 1 meeting with school officials and their attorney went well—just after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Florida Parents’ Bill of Rights into law—the passage of time found nothing had changed.
While the Littlejohns requested to see the promised revised policy from the Leon County School District, all they found was that the school had pulled the old guide from the internet.
Despite Hanna’s assurance that parents will be included in important decisions being made for their child, it has become very clear that Leon County school officials are maintaining their policy of keeping everything secret.
“That was a huge red flag for me that they weren’t adhering to what was promised at the meeting,” Littlejohn said “and I became very concerned that we were being dragged along and they were not going to make good on their word. So we filed the lawsuit.”
According to Littlejohn, school officials continue to insist that they are following school guidelines, which are to protect the privacy of the children. However, their lawyer insists school officials are twisting the definition of the word “privacy” to push their own agenda.
“When we say ‘private,’ these school officials are taking the position of ‘keeping things private from parents,” Vernadette Broyles, president and general counsel at Child & Parental Rights Campaign Inc. in John’s Creek, Georgia, told The Epoch Times. Broyles is one of the attorneys representing the Littlejons in their lawsuit.
“We have no quarrel in protecting children’s privacy from a third party,” Broyles explained. What they do have a problem with is when school officials take the position that the decisions they make that affect the mental health and well-being of someone else’s child—like the decision to identify as something other than their sex, what bathrooms the child will use, and where they sleep on a field trip—should be kept secret from parents.
“Those are profoundly impactful decisions and they’re taking a position of saying they cannot share it with parents,” Broyles asserted “and that is a distortion of the concept of privacy of a child to keep such information from the child’s parents.”
According to Broyles, the individuals named in the complaint filed on Oct. 18 are Hanna and Rodgers. Broyles said the Leon County School Board was also named in the suit because they have reason to believe the board had “some complicity and knowledge of what was going on.”
The complaint alleges that the Defendants “violated Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights by implementing a protocol and training district staff to conceal from parents information regarding their children’s assertion of a discordant gender identity,” and “violated Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights by directing staff to deceive parents by using the children’s birth name and corresponding pronouns in the presence of or communication with the parents while using the children’s new chosen name and pronouns at all other times.”
‘Common Sense Things’
According to Broyles, they are asking for “some very common sense things.” They want the school to formally rescind the old guidance they had on the website, specifically the directives to “intentionally deceive parents by using the child’s given name and pronouns when the parents were around or when speaking to parents” and to “revert to using the assumed identity of the child” once the “parents were out of the way.”
“That is unconscionable,” Broyles said.
They also want a new policy drafted that makes it clear, “whenever a child expresses confusion about their gender identity or their sex that parents would be immediately notified because it is a health issue.”
In addition, “no meetings will be held and no actions will be taken until school staff and/or officials have first spoken to the parents and obtained their permission and their participation in these decisions.” They also demand that “any new policies be implemented through school board notification and voting.”
“That’s a big issue,” Littlejohn noted, explaining that many schools are able to keep parents in the dark about what is going on in their children’s schools by calling these procedures “guidance” rather than “policies.”
“We’re seeing around the country where these kinds of ‘guidance’ are being implemented through back channels, decided somewhere in private conversations and then put in place not through the public school boards, which are accountable to parents and the community,” Littlejohn explained.
Asked if they believe the implementation of “guidance” through “private conversations” suggests there is an intentional violation of Florida’s Sunshine Laws, Broyles said the possibility is obvious.
“We suspect there is but we decided not to focus on that because those types of violations typically have a short statute of limitations and limited remedies,” Broyles explained. “This is a bigger picture. This lawsuit is about protecting the fundamental rights of parents to raise their children without the interference of government officials so we have focused on the guarantees under the Unites States Constitution, the Florida State Constitution, the protections of the Florida Parents’ Bill of Rights, and other Florida statutes.
“This is not just a Florida thing,” Broyles insisted. “This is a national agenda to drive a wedge between parents and their children because somehow public school officials have taken the position and have somehow come to believe that they know better than parents and that children are nothing more than the mere creatures of the state. This case is to establish that children belong to families and that parents are the rightful adults to be making these decisions about what’s in their child’s best interest.
“I want to be very clear about something,” Broyles added, “affirming a child’s discordant gender identity is a significant mental health and medical decision that affects the well-being of children with potentially life-long consequences. To affirm a child’s discordant identity is a treatment decision to a complex mental health issue that schools are not qualified to make. Parents must immediately be involved in such decisions. So this case is about establishing the rightful place of parents to make those decisions and that’s what protects children.”
The Secret Game of ‘Guidance’ Versus ‘Policy’
“This issue of ‘guidance’ versus ‘policy’ is really significant,” Littlejohn reiterated, sharing that she had watched a conference hosted by Equality Florida “that specifically told the schools, administrators, guidance counselors, and all of the attendees to implement guidance, not policy because you don’t have to have any input to do that.”
When they call it “guidance” rather than “policy” Littlejohn said school officials “can effectively train teachers, put on seminars, webinars and implement these procedures without ever having to go through the school board to get public comment.”
“It’s all done very much in secret from parents,” Littlejohn said, explaining how she had found “these same exact LGBTQ non-conforming guides” in many other Florida school districts including Broward, Dade, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Orange, Pasco, Hillsborough, and Alachua.
“And these were just the ones I researched,” Littlejohn noted. “I didn’t have time to research all the counties in Florida yet but it’s very easy to find these guides and it specifically states to keep this information from parents because outing a child to the parents could result in abuse or homelessness.”
Quisha King, the mother whose speech opposing critical race theory before the Duval County School Board went viral, produced a video warning parents that what happened in secret with the Littlejohns could also be happening to their children in Duval County. In the video, King reads directly from the Duval County Public Schools’ “Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender & Questioning LGBTQ+” Support Guide (pdf), which instructs any teacher or school administrator who is asked about a child’s chosen status by a child’s parent to provide the following “appropriate response”:
The guide further instructs that “upon notification of a transgender or gender non-conforming student’s status,” school staff should complete a support plan, just like the one filled out by the Littlejohn’s daughter in secret meeting with school officials, “in collaboration with the student and parent/guardian (if aware) to provide guidance to school staff on how to support the child at school.” The guide also provides a “reminder,” that “a student’s gender identity should never be disclosed without their consent even to a parent or guardian.” As it reads on the booklet cover, this guidance is to be practiced in “every school, every classroom,” with “every student, every day.”
“That’s devotion, honey,” King told The Epoch Times, clarifying that this means it applies to all Duval County children in kindergarten through twelfth grade. “They even have in the guide how to talk to kindergartners about this.”
“They put this out there under the umbrella of civil rights, privacy, and anti-bullying,” King explained. “But I don’t understand why we have to cater to one specific group. Nobody should be bullied. No one should be harassed. Why do we have to have LGBTQ signs everywhere as if they’re a special group? It should just be ‘we don’t tolerate bullying or harassment of anyone,’ period.”
The ‘Mishandling of This Situation’
“While we seldom comment on pending litigation, we have seen that the district openly acknowledged their mishandling of this situation and apologized for the matter,” Christina Pushaw, press secretary for DeSantis told The Epoch Times.
This is not the first time Leon County has been in the legal hot seat. On Oct. 12, Leon County was slapped with a $3.57 million fine for violation of state law prohibiting vaccine mandates for government employees and for firing 14 who refused to comply. They have until Nov. 5 to pay the penalty.
“The district should take every step necessary to get a firm grip on its school operations and hold accountable all those who permitted this ridiculous situation to occur,” Pushaw stated further. “Governor DeSantis has always stood strong for parents’ rights and will continue fighting to protect parents’ rights to make health and education decisions for their own children.”
“The Leon County School Board has admitted their mishandling of the situation and apologized to the family,” Brett Tubbs from the communications office for Florida Department of Education Director Richard Corcoran, told The Epoch Times, “however we must hold those who permitted this situation to occur accountable. The Leon County School District must take every step necessary to fix this situation. Governor DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) have fought for the rights of parents and will continue to do so when making health and education decisions for their students. FDOE has been extremely clear that elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they follow and that parents have the right to make personal and private health care and education decisions for their families.”
The Epoch Times reached out twice to Hanna for comment. He did not respond.
The Epoch Times also reached out to Rodgers.
“We do not comment on open litigation,” Chris Petley in the communications office replied.
The Epoch Times also reached out twice to Leon County School Board Chair Georgia “Joy” Bowen (District 5). She did not respond.
For parents who want more information on their rights regarding transgender indoctrination in Florida schools, Broyles suggests: Navigating the Transgender Landscape School Resource Guide.
“A group of four attorneys and three educators created this guide to be an antidote to the propaganda with which activists have flooded our schools,” Broyles said. “It is filled with medically accurate information that was reviewed and endorsed by fourteen medical professionals. ”
“They are really pinning the child against the parent and that’s what was so profound to me,” Littlejohn said. “There was not just one person in the meeting with my daughter but three school officials had her in a room, by herself, completing this guide with her and this is being done, not only in our state but all over America. This is a really significant issue happening that parents are in the dark about. Parents need to find a voice and stand up for parental rights before they’re completely gone.”