New Jersey's Dem AG Sues Three School Districts Over Parental Rights Policies

Schools that inform parents of their child's changing gender identity pose 'serious mental health risks,' Matt Platkin argues

Matt Platkin (New Jersey Office of the Attorney General Twitter)
June 22, 2023

New Jersey's Democratic attorney general is suing three school districts over policies that require teachers to inform parents if their child publicly changes his or her gender identity.

The state's liberal attorney general, Matt Platkin, on Wednesday filed lawsuits against Middletown, Marlboro, and Manalapan school districts after their boards passed policies that require teachers to notify parents if their child chooses to exhibit a change in his or her gender identity. Parents would be informed, for example, if their child chooses to be called by a different name or seeks to use a different bathroom or locker room than the one that coincides with that child's biological sex.

The lawsuits are the latest in Platkin's fight against parental rights policies, which have emerged as a point of contention since the coronavirus pandemic brought to the surface disagreements over school closures, curricula, and other policies. The Democrat in May sued another local school district, Hanover Township, after its board members similarly passed a policy that notifies parents of gender identity changes. New Jersey's Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, endorsed that suit, saying the policy effectively requires "staff to 'out' LGBTQ+ students to their parents."

Platkin echoed Murphy in his lawsuits filed Wednesday, arguing that the policies passed in Middletown, Marlboro, and Manalapan require districts to "out" transgender and other gender non-conforming students. For Platkin, the policies pose "serious mental health risks" and threaten "physical harm to students."

The number of students in New Jersey public schools who identify as "non-binary" has exploded in recent years. Only 16 students from the state's public schools identified as "non-binary" during the 2019-2020 school year, enrollment figures from the New Jersey Department of Education show. By the 2022-2023 school year, that number skyrocketed to 675 students, a more than 4,000 percent increase. Forty-one of those students are in elementary school, according to the figures.

Middletown, Marlboro, Manalapan, and Hanover's new policies do provide a carveout if school officials determine that making a student's gender transition public would subject that student to physical or mental harm. Still, the new policies unfairly "single out" LGBTQ students and put them in harm's way, according to Platkin.

Manalapan's school district declined to comment, while Middletown's district did not return a request for comment. Marlboro Board of Education counsel Marc Zitomer said the board "vehemently disagrees" with the suit, expressing confidence that the policy "properly balances parental and student rights."

"It is our position that keeping parents in the dark about important issues involving their children is counterintuitive and contrary to well-established Supreme Court case law that says parents have a constitutional right to direct and control the upbringing of their children," Zitomer told the Washington Free Beacon. "We will not be holding off on implementing the policy unless ordered to do so by the courts."

Following last month's lawsuit, the Hanover Township school district released a statement accusing Platkin of mischaracterizing its "common-sense policy," which it plans to "vigorously defend."

"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 district's board said. "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."

Charles Hilu, Thomas McKenna, and Ryan Nevin contributed to this report.