A state judge late last week gave an initial backing to the Murphy Administration in its battle with parental rights groups in Monmouth County.
State Superior Court Judge David F. Bauman on Aug. 18 granted a request for a preliminary injunction by the state Attorney General’s office against the policies requiring parents be notified when students ask for transgender or nonbinary accommodations until the court case is resolved.
The case in question involves the Marlboro, Manalapan-Englishtown and Middletown school districts which in June passed policies requiring teachers to notify parents if a student comes out as transgender, or if a child seeks an accommodation to change their pronouns or name. The injunction prohibits the policy from taking effect in the upcoming school year.
New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin filed the administrative complaints and motions for preliminary injunctions on June 22 that allege that the school’s policies violate the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.
In their filing, the AG’s office contends the policies enacted expressly target transgender, gender non-conforming, and gender non-binary students by singling them out for differential treatment, requiring parental notification for those students but not their peers.
Parental Rights in Education Test
The three lawsuits are just the latest battle between parental right groups that have won control of school boards after the pandemic and those seeking to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students.
The first lawsuit by the Attorney General’s Office was filed against the Hanover Board of Education in May concerning the school district’s policy that the Murphy Administration claims would put LGBTQ+ students at risk of being outed without their consent. Despite revisions that took out specific examples to a more generic description of when school officials should inform behaviors that are concerning, the state has continued pursuing the case in court.
On “Face the Nation” last month, Gov. Phil Murphy noted suing these townships was “the right thing to do….Let’s be smart about this. Let’s protect the rights of these precious kids. Let’s do things the right way, the American way. And I think if we do that, in a spirit of respecting everyone’s rights, protecting the LGBTQIA+ community, we’ll land in a good place.”
Judge Rules for Protecting Students
The lawsuits comes as parental rights in education has become a focal point of state GOP lawmakers in the 2023 election. Arising from disagreements of how leaders handle the closing of schools during the pandemic, mask mandates that followed and new sexual education curriculum, GOP lawmakers have increasingly become involved in what is happening in schools.
As for the Monmouth County cases, the judge noted parental rights are “not immutable” and was concerned about the well being of children who could be outed.
“There is no protected group more vulnerable, or more susceptible, to physical or psychological harm than transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary youth,” he wrote.
LGBTQ+ Students Rights
In a statement released after the judge’s decision, Platkin said he was “pleased” by the decision to delay the policies from entering into effect while the cases challenging those policies are ongoing and called it “a major victory for civil rights” for LGBTQ+ students.
“As the Superior Court correctly found, and as we have argued from the start, it is likely that these new policies violate the rights of our most vulnerable residents by discriminating against them on the basis of gender identity or expression,” said Platkin.
The Superior Court’s decision means that, while this litigation is pending, these school districts are prohibited from modifying or amending the long-standing policies that predated the ones the court has enjoined.
“Those long-standing policies, which were uncontroversial and widely accepted until just a few months ago, protected the rights of transgender students and permitted schools to inform parents about their children based on individualized and non-discriminatory assessments of a particular child’s needs and circumstances,” he said.
Platkin reiterated it is “flatly incorrect” that the state’s position that parents should not be involved in important decisions regarding their children and pointed to the judge writing that the state is “not targeting parental rights.”
“Indeed, the state has never sought and never will seek a ‘ban’ on parental notification,” said the AG. “ All our lawsuits seek to do is to reinstate the same policies these districts found acceptable with little protest for years.”
“Put simply, we can both keep parents informed about their children’s development and protect the civil rights of our most vulnerable students. Our laws require nothing less.”