Parents in Leon County, Florida, are suing the school district for holding a meeting with their teenage daughter about her chosen gender identity without their knowledge or consent. The parents have warned that the district’s LGBT policies create a “wedge” between students and their parents.
January and Jeffrey Littlejohn filed a lawsuit against the school board, Superintendent of Schools Rocky Hanna and Assistant Superintendent, Equity Officer and Title IX Compliance Coordinator Kathleen Rodgers in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on Oct. 18.
In the lawsuit, the Littlejohns accuse the defendants of violating their substantive due process right to direct the education and upbringing of their children under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and other rights guaranteed to them by state and federal law by excluding them from a meeting with school officials discussing their 13-year-old daughter’s gender identity.
Vernadette Broyles of the Child and Parental Rights Campaign, a legal organization created two-and-a-half years ago “specifically to stand with and help parents who are in some way or the other … seeking to protect the well-being … of their child from gender identity ideology,” is one of the attorneys representing the Littlejohns in the litigation.
In an interview with The Christian Post, January Littlejohn and Broyles elaborated on the lawsuit and the events that led up to it.
Littlejohn explained that her daughter, who is now a high school student, began undergoing treatment for gender confusion in the summer before the start of the 2020-’21 school year. She attributed her daughter’s gender confusion to peer pressure from her “friend group because three other children in that same friend group had come out as nonbinary or transgender within the previous six months.”
While Littlejohn told one of her daughter’s teachers at Deer Lake Middle School that she was “seeking mental health counseling and she was experiencing distress that we weren’t affirming her at home because we didn’t feel like it was in her best interest,” she did not expect the school to begin referring to her daughter using they/them pronouns and give her the option to sleep in the same quarters as her male classmates on an overnight school field trip.
Littlejohn only found out that the school had taken such action because her daughter revealed to her that she’d had a meeting about her “nickname,” with the concerned parent telling CP that “that’s kind of what we refer to it as.”
She said her daughter then asked, ‘“isn’t it funny that they asked me what restroom I wanted to use?”’
“My daughter has ADHD … and so to her, this seemed like the silliest thing in the world that they asked her which restroom she preferred to use. That was my first indication that the school had met with her without … notifying my husband or myself,” she said.
“I immediately called her guidance counselor. The guidance counselor said she needed to call me back. She called me back with the assistant principal on the line. So right then and there, I knew something … felt different about the situation because I had spoken to the guidance counselor multiple times in the past because of my daughter’s 504 plan … for her ADHD.”
Littlejohn accused the school of “colluding with my daughter to deceive us so that we would never have known she was going by an alternate name.”
The concerned mother also insisted that she “absolutely should have been at that meeting” and expressed disbelief that the school that she volunteered at did not partner with them. “I was volunteer of the year at that school. It wasn’t like I was an unknown parent.”
Littlejohn recalled the detrimental impact of the school’s decision to hold meetings with her daughter about her gender identity confusion without her knowledge or consent, saying: “It created a huge wedge between our daughter and us, as her parents. We have worked very hard over the past year-and-a-half to stabilize the situation through counseling, and I do feel like she’s on a better path at this time.”
Broyles told CP that the purpose of the lawsuit was to get the school district to “rescind the guidance … that was in place that … basically instructed school officials not to inform parents when a child begins to indicate a transgender or LGBTQ+ identity.” The attorney expressed particular concern that the guidance implied that “outing a student to their parents could be dangerous to a student’s well-being.”
“Every time I think about this lawsuit, it really hits me: The district guidance had the message to parents that you don’t have the best interests of your child in mind. It sends the message that children need to … be protected from parents rather than by parents, and that is an earth-shattering message that cannot stand,” Broyles asserted.
Specifically, the guidance, part of the “LCS Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Gender Nonconforming and Questioning Support Guide,” warned that “Outing a student, especially to parents, can be very dangerous to the [student’s] health and well-being” because “some students are not able to be out at home because their parents are unaccepting of LGBTQ+ people out.”
The guidance maintains that “as many as 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+, many of whom have been rejected by their families for being LGBTQ+,” suggesting that “outing students to their parents can literally make them homeless.”
“We are seeking that guidance to be permanently removed and replaced with new guidance that complies with the Parents’ Bill of Rights there in Florida as well as the Florida and United States Constitution that honors the parents’ right to make decisions for their children,” Broyles added. “It’s really important to recognize that affirming a child’s discordant gender identity … involves a significant mental health decision that affects the well-being of children … and with potentially lifelong consequences.”
The lawsuit, as summarized by Broyles, is asking the school district to implement new guidance requiring school officials to notify parents whenever their child “expresses gender discordance, gender confusion, a different identity other than their physical, biological sex” and “new policies that provide public notice and a public hearing regarding the new guidance through the school board.” Additionally, the Littlejohns are seeking “some sort of monetary damages for the … pain and suffering and … the impacts this has had on their family.”
Broyles stressed that the situation facing the Littlejohns is not unique: “This violation of parental rights is driving a wedge between parents and their children by school officials. … It affects parents … all throughout the political spectrum on both political parties or independents, whether it’s Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics. … We’ve spoken to almost virtually every stripe of parent.”
The attorney maintained that the Child and Parental Rights Campaign is working on several similar cases: “We hear almost weekly from parents who have … something similar happening to them and their children.”
“This same guidance I described to you is present on the websites of at least 11 other school districts throughout Florida,” Broyles said. She further noted that the “Transgender/Gender Nonconforming Student Support Plan” included in the “LCS Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Gender Nonconforming and Questioning Support Guide” is also on the ACLU’s website.
“A lot of these documents are already out there and school boards, based on what I’ve been told, simply adopt those and put their name on them,” Broyles added.
“That’s why there seems to be the exact same guidance in multiple counties in the state of Florida and all over the country in all 50 states.”
Littlejohn told CP that she’s aware of other parents in Leon County that have found themselves in the same situation as herself.
“A lot of the parents are really scared to speak out or they don’t feel like they can speak out because it would jeopardize the very fragile relationship they have with their child who’s experiencing distress related to their gender.” She added that she speaks to other families “almost weekly to try to help them understand the situation at hand and help them get resources.”
She also pushed back on the claim that the school was conducting a “benign intervention”: “It’s the first step toward medical transitioning, which is why it is so imperative that parents be included [in] any discussion with their child that could impact the short-term and long-term mental and physical well-being of their child, whether it’s this issue or any issue. So fundamentally, this is about parental rights and what the schools can and cannot do … without their permission.”
Littlejohn emphasized that despite the harm this experience has caused to her and her family, “it’s made our faith grow” as Christians. She seconded Broyles’ assertion that “this issue affects all kinds of families” and “people of all faiths including atheists.”
In the time since officials at Deer Lake Middle School first met with Littlejohn’s daughter to discuss her gender identity, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed the Parents’ Bill of Rights into law. The measure mandates that “important information relating to a child should not be withheld, either inadvertently or purposely, from his or her parent, including information relating to the minor child’s health, well-being, and education, while the minor child is in the custody of the school district.”
Additionally, the law directs school districts to work with parents, teachers and administrators to “develop and adopt a policy to promote parental involvement in the public school system.”
Superintendent Hanna reacted to the Littlejohns’ lawsuit in a statement to news outlet WCTV: “We certainly want to include parents, and with the Parental Bill of Rights, I understand and respect that, but we also have to respect the rights of the individuals, safety of the children we care for each and every day” because “while the children are under our care we act in loco parentis, on behalf of a parent while they’re under our care.”
The lawsuit follows a year of unsuccessful efforts to convince the school district to change its policy. Littlejohn insisted that “We tried to do this without filing a lawsuit, which was never our intention.”
While the complaint mentions that the district removed the guide from the publicly accessible portion of its website, it alleges that the district did not comply with the Littlejohns’ request to “publish on the Website a written statement that parents would be notified when their child/children express a discordant gender identity and included in meetings or discussions with their child/children regarding their gender identity.”
The complaint contends that “there is no indication on the website or otherwise that the Guide has been rescinded, only a notation that it is being revised.” Additionally, it states that “no revised guidance regarding parental notification has been published or provided to Plaintiffs.” The website of the Leon County Schools’ Equity and Diversity Department has a section devoted to the LCS LGBTQ+ Support Guide, which informs visitors that “[the] Guide is currently being reviewed and is under revision.”
The lawsuit against Leon County Schools comes at a time when parents have expressed an increasing amount of unease with some of the material their children are exposed to in school. In recent weeks, outraged parents and community members in several states have descended on school board meetings to condemn the inclusion of sexually explicit material in books available to students in school libraries and writing prompts in a textbook used in a college-level English class.