After a 12-year-old girl attempted suicide on school property twice after months of secret meetings with a school counselor, her parents have filed a lawsuit.
On Jan. 5, Wendel and Maria Perez received a call from Destiny Washington, who identified herself as a school counselor at Paterson Elementary School (PES) in Fleming Island, Florida, part of Clay County District Schools. Washington told Mr. and Mrs. Perez they needed to come to the school immediately. Washington said it was about their daughter, a sixth-grader, but would not reveal any further information.
When the Perezes arrived at the school they waited in the lobby for 20 minutes before someone came to escort them to a room where Washington, PES Principal John O’Brian, Vice Principal Courtney Schumacher, and a Clay County Schools Police officer were waiting. Mr. and Mrs. Perez were instructed to sit down. According to the federal lawsuit obtained by The Epoch Times—filed Jan. 24 by Child and Parental Rights Campaign, Inc. on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Perez—Washington told the Perezes the reason they were called to the school was because their daughter “had tried to commit suicide by hanging herself in the school restroom.”
Washington then informed the parents the reason why their daughter tried to kill herself was “because of her gender identity issue” and the fact they would “would not be in agreement with these changes” because of “their Christian Catholic religious beliefs.” As the Perezes sat reeling, Washington stunned them again. The Jan. 5 suicide attempt was the second effort. Their daughter had also tried to hang herself the day before. Without explaining how the child survived the first attempt, Washington insisted school staff was not aware of the first attempt prior to the second.
According to the complaint, the daughter sought guidance from the counselor because she was being bullied. She liked video games, which is something her peers say boys do. A friend “confided she thought she was transgender,” and the girl thought she could be transgender as well because “she wanted to be strong and free ‘like a boy.'” When the child went to speak to Washington, she saw “a lot of posters, literature, and other promotional materials related to LGBTQ ‘pride’ in Washinton’s office.” The girl “thought those materials were ‘cool’ and asked Washington if she supported transgender people.” Washington said she did, at which point the child told Washington, “In that case call me ‘M’ and ‘he.’”
Through weekly private meetings over the next few months, the complaint alleges Washington endorsed the belief that the child “could be a boy” and called her by the male name and pronouns. Washinton promised she would not tell the girl’s parents. However, the promise of confidentiality did not extend to the child’s peers. Washington began addressing the child by the male name in front of her friends without the girl’s permission. The child was humiliated. The bullying, for which she sought help from Washington, escalated. As the child became more confused and depressed, Washington told the girl she would get all of the teachers to start calling her by the male name.
After being told their daughter had tried twice to hang herself on school property because their Christian Catholic beliefs conflicted with her new identity and being told they had been kept in the dark about the months of private meetings because of “confidentiality issues,” the Clay County Schools Police officer then informed Mr. and Mrs. Perez that their daughter had already been placed in the back of a police car and was going to be transported to a mental health facility under the Baker Act, regardless of whether or not they approved.
According to the complaint, Mr. and Mrs. Perez “were not given the option of transporting their traumatized daughter to the facility or even traveling with her to provide comfort. Instead, their suicidal 12-year-old daughter was taken in a police vehicle to an emergency room, where she stayed until 4 a.m. when she was transferred alone, without the comfort and/or support of her parents, to another emergency room and then admitted to the behavioral health unit at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.”
Named in the lawsuit are David Broskie (individually, and in his official capacity as Superintendent of Clay County District Schools), John O’Brian (individually, and in his official capacity as Principal of Paterson Elementary School), Courtney Schumacher (individually, and in her official capacity as Assistant Principal of Paterson Elementary School), and Destiny Washington (individually, and in her official capacity as counselor at Paterson Elementary School). Twelve causes are outlined. A jury trial is demanded.
The first four causes in the lawsuit are related to “Violation of Civil Rights., 42 U.S.C. § 1983,” as granted by the U.S. Constitution. First, for denying the Perezes’ due process of their fundamental parental right to direct the education and upbringing of their child. The second cause is for violation of their fundamental right to direct the medical and mental health decision-making for their child. The third cause of action is for violation of their right to familial privacy by “implicitly affirming” that Mr. and Mrs. Perez “unreasonably not agree” with their daughter’s “assumption of a male name because of their religious beliefs and therefore cannot be trusted to be informed of or involved in decision-making related to her identity.” Cause four is for violation of the Perezes’ right to free exercise of their Catholic Christian faith and for targeting their “beliefs regarding the created order, human nature, sexuality, gender, ethics, and morality which constitute central components of their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The fifth cause of action is for violation of the Perezes’ right to free exercise and enjoyment of religion under Article I, §3 of the Florida Constitution: “there shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof.”
The sixth cause is for violation of the right to privacy, granted in Article 1, § 23 of the Florida Constitution. The seventh is for violation of their right to substantive due process under Art. I § 9 of the Florida Constitution, and the eighth is for violation of the Parents’ Bill of Rights, Florida Statutes, Chapter 1014, signed into law by Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 30, 2021.
The ninth cause is for violation of Florida Statute §761.03, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The tenth cause is for violation of the right to choose medical treatment for their child as granted by Florida Statute § 743.07. Cause eleven is for intentional infliction of emotional distress and the twelfth is for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The Father’s Story
“This counselor said we were there because our daughter tried to commit suicide,” Wendel Perez recalled of that day to The Epoch Times. “The counselor alleged that it was because of her gender identity issue, and they knew we would not be in agreement because of our religious beliefs. We’re Catholic Christians. When I asked why they didn’t notify us about these surreptitious meetings with the school counselor, we were told by an administrator that confidentiality issue prevented them from telling us about them.”
“Confidentiality” was the same reason given to January Littlejohn after she discovered school officials in Leon County, Florida, held a private meeting with her daughter. As reported by The Epoch Times on Aug. 23, several school officials met with her daughter in secret to draft a “transgender gender nonconforming student support plan,” which was used to record her child’s new non-binary status, “preferred name,” and “preferred pronouns.” The 13-year-old child was even allowed to determine she would “be comfortable rooming w/either sex” on overnight school trips without the knowledge or consent of the parents. Staff also decided the parents would not be informed of anything involved in “implementing this plan,” and staff were instructed not to “include gender-specific pronouns when speaking w/parents.”
Asked about his daughter’s conversation with her transgender friend and Washington regarding the idea she might be transgender, Perez believes the idea was encouraged, not inherent. “My daughter never exhibited any gender confusion,” Perez insisted. “She never questioned her biological sex.” From all he has seen, including the Littlejohn’s case, Perez said he is convinced there is “an underground movement” to push the transgender ideology on children through schools.
“I believe it’s implanted,” Perez said, explaining that his daughter simply wanted to be strong and that “in her mind, the way to be strong would to be a boy because boys are strong.” His daughter also has interest in video games, which she plays with her brother. Because of this, kids were bullying her at school, calling her derogatory names.
“She is a she,” Perez insisted. In fact, “just before the incident,” the complaint states the child “had told her mother that she believed that people who say they are transgender have a problem with their minds because ‘if you’re a boy, you’re a boy, if you’re a girl, you’re a girl.’”
When the Perezes’ asked why they had not been told about the secret meetings until the second suicide attempt, Schumacher told them school officials were “not required” to tell the parents about the weekly private meetings because of “confidentiality issues.” However, according to the complaint, “neither she nor anyone affiliated with the school provided legal authority for these assertions.”
Perez said when he and his wife arrived at the hospital, they were under the impression their daughter was going to be with someone. But they discovered their daughter had been by herself the whole time. More disturbing was when she was moved into the behavioral health unit, where one of the staff members called their daughter by the boy’s name used by Washington. Perez said his daughter immediately corrected the staff member, saying that was not her name and she told him her real name. What Perez wants to know is how the hospital staff member knew to address his daughter by the fictitious name in the first place. “Who was in charge? Perez asked rhetorically. “We weren’t allowed to go with her. The school was in charge. The school provided all of the information to the hospital. The school coordinated with the hospital.”
“She was away from us for a week, with limited access to family,” Perez said. “Then she was released to us on January 12, and she’s been with us since then.”
Asked how his daughter was doing now, Perez said “she’s doing great. She’s a happy girl like she was before. She is relieved she isn’t at the school anymore and she does not want to go back. She is getting her schoolwork from her teachers and doing her work from home.”
The Attorney’s Perspective
Vernadette Broyles, president, general counsel and founder of Child and Parental Rights Campaign, Inc., was present during the Zoom interview with Perez.
“It’s so important to understand that to endorse a child’s discordant gender identity that is in conflict with her biological sex is a serious mental health decision that school personnel are not competent or qualified or authorized to make,” Broyles told The Epoch Times. “How important it is for school officials to immediately involve parents.”
According to Broyles, school officials “hide behind the kids” in their effort to push an agenda in secret. “They hide behind the kids and say, ‘the kids don’t want us to tell the parents so we’re just honoring their confidentiality.’ That is not the law. They are foolishly authorizing children to both defy and exclude their parents when they need their parents more than ever. These are kids. They are immature. They need guidance.”
Asked if she had a message to relay, Broyles said “if I could stand on a roof somewhere and scream any message” she would tell “school officials, stop! You are damaging these children you claim to be championing who are in distress and having confusion. This story is about a child and her family but it’s bigger than that,” Broyles said. “This is happening to so many. Our organization is hearing from parents all around the country. We’re overrun. We can’t handle them all. These school officials are sending the message to kids that they need to be protected from their parents, not protected by their parents. That is an extremely dangerous and frightening message.”
In order to protect the identity of the 12-year-old child, The Epoch Times asked if the parents preferred to speak under the condition of anonymity.
“We’re in the public domain already,” Broyles said, adding that Mr. and Mrs. Perez “don’t want to go by John and Jane Doe.”
“They’re real people. They want to stand by this,” Broyles asserted. “They’re taking a courageous stand because this can’t happen to anyone else. We have to tell the story and not hide in some way. We just have to tell this story so no one else experiences this and people realize this is going on.”
Asked if he had a message for other parents, Perez said “parental rights are for everyone. They are for me as a Catholic. They are good for my neighbor as a Muslim. They are good for liberals. They are good for conservatives. They are good for blacks, for whites, for everyone. Parental rights are for everyone, even LGBTQ couples.”
The School District’s Denial
The Epoch Times reached out to Broskie and O’Brian. A Clay County District Schools spokesperson replied on their behalf.
“Clay County District Schools has not been served with any legal process and cannot comment on the content of any pleading filed with the court,” Terri Dennis, Clay County District Schools chief of staff, replied. “The district performed a thorough and complete investigation into this matter as it was presented to us and has determined that the allegations made by this out-of-state organization are completely false, fabricated, and appear to be intended solely for the purpose of inciting the public. All employees of the district consistently work to ensure that the best interest of all students are served. The district will have no further comment on this matter.”
The Attorney’s Rebuttal
“Clay County District School officials claim that they did a ‘thorough investigation’ into the Perezes’ allegations,” Broyles stated. “However, the District did not follow its own published policy regarding claims of discrimination, which provides that all “persons involved shall be questioned.” No one in the Perez family has been questioned regarding their claims, so whatever investigation was done, it was not done in accordance with the district’s required procedures. What is more, these allegations are not being made by an “out-of-state organization”—they are being made by two Florida parents, one of whom is a practicing attorney, who know their rights under Florida law and, yes, they hope to encourage other Floridian parents to stand up for theirs as well.
The Governor’s Response
“Governor DeSantis has led the way on standing up for parents’ rights,” Florida Gov. Ron Desantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw told The Epoch Times. “In Florida, parents have the right to make health and education decisions for their own kids. Good teachers and school administrators see parents as essential partners in their kids’ education, not as adversaries. Schools must never keep secrets about a child from that child’s parents. Encouraging any student to lead a double life, without informing the parents or guardians, is completely unacceptable. Not only does it violate the spirit of protections for parents’ rights, but such confusing dynamics can cause serious challenges for a child’s mental and emotional health. Governor DeSantis will always stand up for parents’ rights to be involved in their children’s education and to make decisions for their own sons and daughters. As a father, Governor DeSantis feels that parents—not activists or politicians—know what’s best for their own kids. Parents should play the most important role in their kids’ education and upbringing; they must not be marginalized by ideological directives from activist groups. Schools need to work alongside parents as partners in their child’s education, and not hide important issues from parents or interfere with the relationship between a parent and his or her child.”