Clay County Schools asks judge to dismiss lawsuit filed in gender identity case

District claims full story is not public due to FERPA

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – Attorneys for the Clay County School District responded to a lawsuit brought by the attorney for two parents, who claim a school counselor coached their elementary-aged child in a gender identity transition without their knowledge or approval.

In a 25-page motion, the district’s lawyers asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit for a litany of reasons including the non-specific nature of the complaints, the “murky” legal grounds on which they were filed and a lack of any specific rule or policy that the plaintiffs claim the district breached.

“Many of Plaintiffs’ claims are disputed, refuted by the evidence, or are demonstrably untrue,” the district’s motion said.

News4JAX has made the editorial decision to refrain from disclosing the identities of the parents who brought the lawsuit, in order to protect the identity of their child.

The parents claim that the administration of the Clay County elementary school their child attends overstepped its authority in discussing and supporting their child’s request to be referred to by a different name and gender and, in doing so, that the district violated the parents’ rights to direct the education of their child.

After the child told the school counselor about two separate suicide attempts in early January, the parents were notified and later filed the lawsuit that month. The parents told News4JAX that the concept of changing one’s gender identity is inconsistent with the family’s catholic Christian beliefs and referred to the scenario as “a mental health problem.”

In its motion to have the lawsuit dismissed, attorneys for the district argued that the case is an example of “shotgun pleading,” a legal term describing a case with multiple defendants and/or multiple claims that don’t point to any specific wrongdoing.

“Plaintiffs point to no policy promulgated by the School Board, nor do they allege any statement, edict, pattern, or practice of the School Board,” the motion said. “Instead, they appear to rely solely on alleged statements by [an administrator].”

The district’s lawyers said even if the parents’ claim that the school counselor engaged in a conversation about the child’s gender identity is true, it doesn’t break any established rules, particularly because both parties said that the child approached the school counselor about the subject and not vice versa.

Though the parents claimed that their rights were violated when the district failed to tell them about the alleged conversations about gender identity, the district argued that they did not identify any specific right that was violated.

“There is no protected constitutional right to receive such notification that these discussions were occurring, or for Defendants to obtain consent from Plaintiffs to engage in them, presuming they even occurred, which is disputed,” the district’s motion said. “Plaintiffs’ already high burden faces an additional hurdle, as “in [civil rights] cases asserting violations of parental liberty interests, ‘we are venturing into the murky area of unenumerated constitutional rights,’” it states.

A school district employee does not have any legal obligation to reinforce a student’s family’s religious teachings in a public institution and therefore, the district argues that the parents’ claim of a rights violation is invalid.

The district also pointed out that the target of the lawsuit, Superintendent David Broskie, is not supposed to be named in these types of cases.

“In Florida, the School Board, not the Office of the Superintendent, is the government entity with the power to contract, to sue, and be sued,” the motion said.

Vernadette Broyles is the attorney representing the parents in this case, and also serves as the president and general counsel for the Child & Parental Rights Campaign, a law firm focused on anti-LGBTQ litigation.

“Clay County School District’s Motion to Dismiss is the predictable response of school officials trying to avoid liability for their actions,” Broyles said in an emailed statement. “We will respond as needed in court.”

The Clay County School District released the following statement about the case, specifically addressing what can and cannot be disclosed publically.

“Clay County District Schools has performed a thorough and complete investigation into this matter as it was presented to us and has determined that the allegations made by this out-of-state organization are completely false, fabricated, and appear to be intended solely for the purpose of inciting the public.

The beginning of litigation, in general, is based on one side of a story and not based on all of the facts. Furthermore, there is a lot of information that we cannot publicly disclose due to the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and therefore, the full story is not portrayed in the media. All employees of the district consistently work to ensure that the best interests of all students are served."

Laura Christmas, Clay County School District spokesperson

The lawsuit comes as the Parental Rights in Education bill, nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics.

The bill recently received approval from the Florida House of Representatives and is being referred to the state Senate where a similar bill is already being considered.