The state of New Jersey is taking Hanover Township Board of Education to court over a new policy for the school to inform parents about the sexual orientation and gender identification of students in the district.
At issue is the Morris County school board’s new policy approved May 16, titled “Parental Notification of Material Circumstances,” that mandates teachers in the K-8 school district to notify parents on a wide range of factors if they are aware of “any facts or circumstances that may have a material impact” on a student’s well being.
The state’s Attorney General’s office filed three motions the following day from the policy going into effect, alleging that the policy enacted by school board violates the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination’s (LAD) prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
In the AG’s complaint, the policy discriminates against students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression because it targets transgender students and other students who identify as LGBTQ+ and requiring parental notification for LGBTQ+ youth but not their peers.
The complaint goes on to state the parental notification policy has a disparate impact on LGBTQ+ youth, as the policy requires school staff to “out” LGBTQ+ youth to their parents and thus exposing “to severe harms to their safety and mental health.” The policy runs counter to guidance from the New Jersey Department of Education concerning the confidentiality and privacy of such information as well.
Murphy Weighs In
“We will always stand up for the LGBTQ+ community here in New Jersey and look forward to presenting our arguments in court in this matter,” said Attorney General Matt Platkin. “We are extremely proud of the contributions LGBTQ+ students make to our classrooms and our communities, and we remain committed to protecting them from discrimination in our schools.”
Platkin’s office filed an emergency motion in state Superior Court, requesting a preliminary injunction and temporary restraints to prevent the policy from going into effect while the the AG’s Division on Civil Rights challenge to the policy remains pending. The requested injunction is being sought to preserve the status quo and thereby ensure that school staff are not forced to “out” LGBTQ+ youth to their parents while the lawsuit moves through the courts.
Gov. Phil Murphy weighed in with his support for Platkin’s move, tweeting that “Hanover Township Board of Education’s new policy requiring staff to ‘out’ LGBTQ students to their parents violates the rights of our students—jeopardizing their well-being and mental health.”
Full Hanover Policy
But the Hanover Board pledged to fight the actions that have been filed, releasing a press statement asserting the Attorney General’s Office lawsuit is incorrect that the policy targets students on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, and affectional or sexual orientation.
“Simply put, Board Policy 8463 merely requires that staff members ‘say something’ to the parents and appropriate school administrators if they ‘see something’ that could adversely affect the social/emotional well-being of a child,” the board wrote.
Besides the disputed gender and sexual orientation issues, the board’s policy listed what school officials could bring to the attention to parents that includes:
- substance abuse, such as tobacco, vaping and alcohol;
- peer/academic/athletic pressures, including school performance, harassment, intimidation or bullying;
- social issues such as eating disorders, suicide, self-harm, depression, anxiety, isolationism, anti-social behaviors and being social withdrawn;
- unlawful activity, including theft, vandalism, truancy, and gang affiliation;
- violent or aggressive behavior;
- preoccupation with anti-social music;
- sexual activity;
- obsessive compulsive behaviors; and
- familial/cultural challenges
Board Pledges to Fight
“The Hanover Township Board of Education believes that parents need to be fully informed of all material issues that could impact their children so that they —as parents—can provide the proper care and support for their children,” the board said, for the district that includes Cedar Knolls and Whippany. “(We) will vigorously defend this common-sense policy that protects parental rights and ensures the safety of all school children.”
The Attorney General’s office the complaint is not challenging other aspects of the policy, such as the requirements for parental notification related to substance use, alcohol use, firearms, or unlawful activity, but the ones that it believes impugns on the civil rights of LGBTQ+ students.
“Our state civil rights laws are clear: New Jersey does not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression,” said Sundeep Iyer, Director of the Division on Civil Rights. “We will continue do everything in our power to enforce the robust protections our laws provide and to ensure that LGBTQ+ youth remain safe in our schools.”