Conservatives have argued for months that parents must be told about their kids’ sexual behavior or predilections while in school. Republicans, in fact, have been campaigning on the issue of parents’ rights all over the state.
Politics is one thing; the law is another.
And so far, the courts disagree with Republicans.
A Superior Court judge in Morris County has permanently blocked an attempt by the Hanover Township Board of Education to require staff to identify and notify parents if a student is gay or speaking about transitioning.
The order by Judge Stuart Minkowitz last Friday came about a month or so after a judge in Monmouth County blocked three school districts – Middletown, Marlboro and Manalapan-Englishtown – from imposing a similar staff requirement related to a child’s gender identity or expression. The state Attorney General had sued all four districts to overturn the notification requirements.
The rulings do not end the matters. They simply put the school boards’ requirements on hold until the issue is investigated by the state Division on Civil Rights.
All this is very procedural, but there has been nothing procedural about the politics surrounding what the school boards did.
The original move in Hanover to adopt the policy back in May prompted effusive support from many local Republicans, some of whom (quite coincidentally) were running in the June primary.
But opponents were active too.
A court hearing in Monmouth County over the summer produced a sidewalk debate, or was it an argument, among advocates from both sides.
Moving to the more sedate setting of a courtroom, the judge at an initial hearing on the Hanover case in late May agreed with the state AG that the district’s original requirement was flawed because it singled out gay, or possibly gay, students for different treatment. And that would be discriminatory, he said.
The board then revised the policy to say that parental notification could not be “solely” based on any traits that violate the equal treatment of all individuals under the law.
That did not solve the problem.
The AG’s office argued – and the judge agreed in his ruling – that as long as a child’s sexual characteristics were a consideration, even a minor one, the district would open the door to “differential treatment based upon students’ protected status.”
Interestingly, the Hanover school board in a statement prior to last week’s ruling said that it was confident in its position.
It put it this way:
“No amount of intellectual or linguistic gymnastics put forth by the Attorney General can diminish the integrity of the policy’s plain language and meaning. The Attorney General argues that parental notification under Policy 8463 violates the (Law Against Discrimination) because it may incidentally result in disclosure of the minor child’s protected class status or characteristics.” The board called that interpretation “novel and expansive.”
One can only assume the board will have a similar view of Judge Minkowitz’s ruling.
There is a related issue here.
In the midst of this legal fight, the Hanover board rescinded a previous policy that prohibited school staff from “outing” a student’s transgender status.
Other districts have done the same, and others still are considering it.
This move has become a rallying cry and goal of conservatives, but it really seems like a red herring.
No matter what school districts do with a policy, state law bans discrimination against gay and transgender students, which is a point Minkowitz made. The state AG had asked the judge to keep the policy, but the state also admitted that it’s voluntary guidance.
So the dust may be clearing – somewhat – in regard to legal fights over schools notifying parents if students are gay or expressing transgender sentiments. The proposed policies are all on hold.
But let’s not forget that elections are a “judicial review” of another kind.
And do not expect Republicans to let the parental rights issue drop.