Do parents have a right to know if their child is socially transitioning to a transgender identity in school? The issue of gender identity policies in schools has become increasingly contentious, with parents correctly feeling they have a right to know when their child socially transitions at school, and many public schools arguing that schools have a responsibility to “protect” students by keeping that information from parents.
Social transition describes the process by which children or adolescents adopt the name, pronouns, and gender expression, such as clothing and haircuts, that aligns with a transgender identity.
Social transition in school districts
Increasingly, school districts across the country are attempting to keep parents from discovering when such social transitioning is occurring at school—and they’re being supported by the federal courts.
Maryland: In August 2023, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled 2-1 that three parents in Montgomery County, Maryland, lacked standing to challenge the school’s gender identity policy because they had not alleged their children were transgender in the first place.
The policy, which the Montgomery County Board of Education adopted for the 2020-2021 school year:
- permitted schools to develop gender support plans for students to ensure they “feel comfortable expressing their gender identity”;
- directs school personnel to help transgender and gender nonconforming students create a plan that addresses their preferred pronouns, names, and bathrooms;
- and bars staff from informing parents of those plans without a student’s consent.
Lawsuits are pending challenging similar policies in other states.
California: In July, a federal court dismissed a similar case brought against a California school district by a parent who alleged the district had violated her constitutional rights by failing to tell her that her child had asked to use a different gender pronoun. U.S. District Court Judge John Mendez said in his ruling:
“The issue before this court is not whether it is a good idea for school districts to notify parents of a minor’s gender identity and receive consent before using alternative names and pronouns, but whether the United States Constitution mandates such parental authority. This Court holds that it does not.”
The states that do—and do not—require parental notification
School gender identity policies on informing parents about students who are transgender or social transitioning vary widely among school districts and states. Here are some states that have issued guidance on this issue:
- Alabama: State law requires that no school staff shall “withhold from a minor’s parent or legal guardian information related to a minor’s perception that his or her gender or sex is inconsistent with his or her sex.”
- Arizona: State law promotes parental involvement, though does not require school staff to notify parents.
- California: While policies vary by school district, the state issued legal guidance issued by the California Department of Education, which expressly states schools may not disclose a student’s gender identity without the student’s permission. The California legislature also passed a law which makes the state of California a “safe haven” for minors to receive irreversible, sterilizing surgeries and treatments. The bill allows minors to act against their parents’ wishes and travel out of state for these procedures without parental consent.
- Florida: State law promotes parental involvement, though does not require school staff to notify parents.
- Idaho: State law promotes parental involvement, though does not require school staff to notify parents.
- Indiana: State law requires schools to notify parents if the child changes their gender identity.
- Iowa: State law requires schools to notify parents if the child changes their gender identity.
- Kentucky: State law promotes parental involvement, though does not require school staff to notify parents.
- Montana: State law promotes parental involvement, though does not require school staff to notify parents.
- North Carolina: State law requires schools to notify parents if the child changes their gender identity.
- Utah: State law promotes parental involvement, though does not require school staff to notify parents.
In states not listed, there is no state-level requirement to notify parents.
What every concerned parent can do
Even in states that require notification, concerned parents should make a direct effort to determine whether their child secretly identifies as transgender at school. A simple way to do this is to access the student’s records and see if the child is using a different name or pronoun. Two federal regulations—the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment—require schools to provide parents with access to student records and federally funded instructional material until a child turns 18.
Unfortunately, this is one of the few options available to all parents in the U.S. As Ryan Womack of Alliance Defending Freedom observes, “Parental rights are not always protected in every state or federal court as carefully as are other fundamental rights.”
Eventually, the Supreme Court will have to determine whether public schools will be required to respect parental rights.
Christian parents, in particular, ought to be vigilant and take the initiative to directly protect their children from the confusing and harmful gender ideology touted by the prevailing culture. The Bible is clear that parents should be the ones primarily responsible for instructing their children in the Word of God (Deut. 6), and this includes what Scripture teaches about sexuality. As Christian parents help their children walk in the way of wisdom, they point to the goodness of God’s design and encourage the flourishing of their families and communities.