Community Perspective: Why a group of teachers and parents have filed suit against Harrisonburg City Public Schools

A contributed perspectives piece by Deborah Figliola

I am one of a group of six parents and teachers who has filed a lawsuit against the administration of Harrisonburg City Public Schools. Our lawsuit asks the court to step in and block a school policy that the administration has refused to withdraw, despite two requests over several months from our lawyers that made clear the policy’s legal problems.

If you haven’t yet read the lawsuit for yourself, I would encourage you to do so. Among other things, it sets out in detail how the policy violates teachers’ rights by forcing us to deceive parents, and how it violates parents’ rights, too, by cutting them out of life-changing decisions about their children. Yes, the lawsuit touches on a sensitive issue, but that’s just it: we think it is wrong for a school to say that it gets to make sensitive decisions for children, leaving those children’s parents in the dark. In fact, as the lawsuit explains, that’s unconstitutional.

All of the teachers involved in this case care deeply about the children entrusted to our care. We love our jobs and value our colleagues. We know what a privilege it is to serve you, our own community, as educators. And we knew that filing a lawsuit would come with extra attention—attention that none of us wanted. In fact, it was something that all of us wanted to avoid. But ultimately, we saw no other choice. We could not idly stand by while the schools’ administration enforced a policy that takes a radical, one-size-fits-all approach to students struggling with their gender, and that allows parents to be pushed out of the picture.

Schools need to involve parents in life-altering decisions faced by their kids, particularly where there is more than one approach. The administration’s policy requires schools to make a value judgment about whether parental involvement is “appropriate.” We are all uncomfortable with giving schools the power to determine whether or not it is appropriate to deceive parents. How are parents supposed to trust teachers if school policy allows them to be kept in the dark on important issues concerning their children?

Sadly, there are already ongoing efforts to distract from the important issues raised by our case, including a particularly malicious attempt to discredit the law firm representing us, and by extension, tarnish our own reputations and motives. A quick investigation into the baseless allegations repeated from the widely discredited Southern Poverty Law Center shows that it is a partisan and disingenuous attempt to silence differing beliefs and opinions. It’s disappointing that anyone would resort to these types of attacks rather than focus on the real issues at stake.

We share the dismay of school administrators that the case has ended up in court. None of us wanted to be here. But we realized things wouldn’t be straightforward when our lawyers were accused of “misinformation” by school administrators simply for pointing out our concerns. Our hope is that we will see the court affirm something we all believe to be true: schools cannot lawfully keep parents in the dark about their children’s wellbeing. We care too much about our students and their families to let that slide.

Deborah Figliola is one of several parents and teachers suing the Harrisonburg City Public School Board.

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