A public school district in Massachusetts is facing a lawsuit over its efforts to encourage children to “experiment with alternate gender identities” at school and hide that information from their parents.
In a complaint filed last week in a U.S. district court, two families alleged that administrators and several employees at Ludlow Public Schools have “exceeded the bounds of legitimate pedagogical concerns” and violated the parents’ right to make medical and mental health decisions for their children, as well as their right to preserve family privacy and integrity.
The suing families specifically target Ludlow’s de facto protocol that parents are not to be notified when their child “raise issues of gender non-conformity or transgender status,” including when the child asks to be called by preferred opposite sex names and pronouns or to use restrooms designated for the opposite sex, unless the child consents.
Parents Stephen Foote and Marissa Silvestri alleged that this protocol has kept them out of the loop on the mental health issues of B.F., their then-11-year-daughter at Baird Middle School in Ludlow.
According to the complaint (pdf), B.F. in December 2020 disclosed to a teacher, Bonnie Manchester, that she had told a friend that she might be attracted to the same sex, that she was depressed, and that she was unsure about how to ask her parents for help. Manchester notified Silvestri, who then contacted Baird officials to let them know that she was retaining professional help for her daughter, and requested that they should “not have any private conversations with B.F. in regards to this matter.”
Baird counselor Marie-Claire Foley, however, allegedly ignored the mother’s message and engaged in “regular communications” with B.F., directing the girl to affirm her new gender identity. She also allegedly allowed B.F. to change her name and referred to her in email exchanges as R.F., her preferred male name, all without her parents’ knowledge.
On Feb. 28, 2021, B.F. wrote an email to Foley, then-Ludlow superintendent Todd Gazda, and all Baird teachers, declaring herself “a genderqueer” who would use the R name and “any pronouns other than it/its.” In a reply-all email to the girl and the other recipients, Foley appeared to ask that school staff follow the protocol and keep secrets from the girl’s parents about the changes.
“R is still in the process of telling his parents and is requesting that school staff refer to him as B and use she/her pronouns with her parents and in written emails/letters home,” the counselor wrote, according to court filings.
In addition, Foley allegedly referred B.F. to Baird librarian Jordan Funke, who regularly met with students one-on-one to discuss gender identity issues and provide resources promoting exploration of alternate gender identities. Funke had also instructed students to make a video in which they state their “gender identity and preferred pronouns.” B.F. was among the students given that assignment in 2019 when she ascended to sixth grade.
Silvestri was not aware of the changes until March 1, 2021, when she received a copy of B.F.’s email from Manchester. On March 18, Baird principal Stacy Monette told Manchester that she was placed on leave because of “inappropriate contact with the parents of a student.” Monette officially fired Manchester about a month later, saying that she shared “sensitive confidential information about a student’s expressed gender identity against the wishes of the student.”
“I did what any teacher would and should do: I told the parents,” Manchester told The Epoch Times earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Silvestri’s and Foote’s son S.F. is also a student at Baird. According to the complaint, teachers and counselors “similarly disregarded the parents’ intent” by engaging in “regular conversations” with the boy, who had identified as transgender and requested to be called by a female name.
“Baird Middle School staff did not notify Foote and Silvestri of these conversations, but instead followed the Protocol to conceal the information from them as they have for B.F.,” the court filings read.
Parents Jonathan Feliciano and Sandra Salmeron are also listed as plaintiff. They claimed that Ludlow violated their constitution-guaranteed freedom of religious expression because the protocol is being enforced at all schools across the district.
Specifically, the couple argued that the school district’s conduct infringes their “sincerely held religious beliefs which include respect for parental authority, truthfulness, and adherence to a Biblical understanding of male and female and standards of behavior.”
“We want to support our students the best we can,” Ludlow School Committee Chair James Harrington told state news station MassLive. “But we should bring parents to the table and hope they respond in a loving and supportive way as well.”
Andrew Beckwith, the attorney representing the families and president of non-profit advocacy group Massachusetts Family Institute, said his clients hope the court will end the protocol and clarify the rights of parents across the state, especially in cases where public schools are interfering with their children’s mental health issues without their knowledge.
“In this specific type of case, you have a school affirming a child’s discordant gender identity,” Beckwith told The Epoch Times. “That is effectively mental health treatment intervention that schools are not qualified, competent, and in this case, not authorized by the parents to make.”
“At any time, parents should always be informed and involved in their children’s lives,” he said. “Teachers should be working in partnership with parents, not getting fired because they talk to the parents as what happened in this case.”