BREAKING: Firm sues Florida public school district for hiding gender counseling from parents

Written by a mental health attorney

On January 24, 2022, the Child & Parental Rights Campaign filed suit in federal court on behalf of parents who allege that Clay County school officials hid their 12-year-old daughter’s (“A.P.”) mental health and gender identity issues for months – only informing them after the child attempted suicide in the school bathroom on two separate occasions. The lawsuit alleges violations of the parents’ custodial rights under the Florida Constitution and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The suit, which was filed in the Middle District of Florida against the Clay County Schools superintendent and three Paterson Elementary officials, alleges that the school counselor engaged in secret therapy sessions with A.P. over the course of several months last year regarding A.P.’s distress over being bullied and her confusion about her gender. Paterson Elementary is located in Fleming Island.

The suit claims that the counselor breached A.P.’s privacy by purporting to tell other teachers and students about A.P.’s new “male” name and gender identity without the child’s knowledge or approval and without informing her parents, leading to A.P.’s increased distress at school. As stated in the lawsuit, A.P.’s parents were not contacted about any bullying or mental health concerns until the child attempted suicide twice at the beginning of this year, and they were never informed that school officials were encouraging A.P. to “transition” to a male gender identity.

School officials allegedly invoked “confidentiality rules” to justify their failure to include the parents in medical decision-making, but the Child & Parental Rights Campaign notes that the Clay County Public Schools written guidance expressly contradicts the officials’ claims. The policy, attached as an exhibit to the suit, expressly states that children do not have a confidentiality right in school counseling sessions and that officials must obtain parental consent before guaranteeing confidentiality to a child.

According to the complaint, A.P.’s parents did not learn of the counseling sessions and the school’s concealed attempts to transition A.P. to a new gender identity until January 05, 2022, when they were called in because of A.P.’s second suicide attempt. The complaint states that by the time A.P.’s parents had arrived at the school, the child was being placed into the back of a police car to be transported to a hospital for involuntary examination under Florida’s “Baker Act” law. The Baker Act allows law enforcement and certain health officials to initiate a mental health examination in the event a person is an imminent risk to herself or others based on apparent mental illness.  

The Child & Parental Rights Campaign filed suit late last year against Leon County, Florida officials for a similar incident involving a 13-year-old girl, and related suits have been filed in Wisconsin and California.

As recently as 2000, the United States Supreme Court acknowledged in Troxel v. Granville that “the interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court.”

Image credit: Craig Adderley, Pexels

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