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The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear the Maryland School District’s gender identity case

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case backed by a conservative Christian legal group challenging a Maryland school district’s policy of not informing parents if their children identify as transgender or gender nonconforming.

The judges rejected an appeal from three parents with children in public schools in Montgomery County, a suburb of Washington. A lower court had previously ruled that the parents did not have the legal standing to challenge the policy. The plaintiffs were represented by the Virginia-based National Legal Foundation.

Story Background

The issue of transgender rights has become a major point of contention in America’s culture wars. Conservative litigants and parent groups have filed lawsuits in several U.S. jurisdictions challenging school policies that respect transgender students’ requests not to be “exposed” to their parents without permission.

The Montgomery County Board of Education has adopted such a policy for the 2020-2021 school year. This policy allowed schools to create gender support plans to ensure students felt comfortable expressing their gender identity. It directed school staff to assist transgender and gender non-conforming students with plans for preferred pronouns, names and toilets, and prohibited staff from informing parents of these plans without the student’s consent.

In 2020, a mother and two fathers filed a lawsuit, arguing that the district’s policy violated their due process rights under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to direct the care of their children. U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm dismissed the case in 2022, and a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, upheld the dismissal in a 2-1 vote in 2023. The court ruled that although the parents presented ‘convincing’ arguments, they lacked the capacity to pursue their claims.

Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum, writing for the majority of the 4th Circuit, noted that there were no allegations that the parents’ children were transgender, had gender identity issues or had “gender support plans” that addressed names, pronouns and restroom use.

Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum, appointed by former President Donald Trump, noted that prosecutors had not presented evidence that the schools had information about their children that could be withheld from them. This absence of specific facts reduced their resistance to a mere “policy disagreement,” according to Quattlebaum.

“Policy disagreements should be addressed to elected policymakers at the ballot box, not to unelected judges in the courthouse,” Quattlebaum wrote.

In their appeal, the parents argued that the 4th Circuit’s ruling misinterpreted U.S. Supreme Court precedent on legal standing and conflicted with decisions from other federal appeals courts. They urged the justices to address not only their legal status but also whether the school’s policies violated their basic parental rights, stressing that “this issue is not going away.”

“This case presents a substantive issue that is roiling parents and school districts from Maine to California,” they wrote in their petition to the justices. “It is important for parents, their children and public schools that this problem is addressed and resolved now.”

The school district defended its policy, saying it was aimed at creating a safe and welcoming environment where all students feel accepted. While the policy encourages parental involvement wherever possible, it recognizes that some students may not openly express their gender identity at home due to concerns about safety or acceptance.