Lawsuit challenging Madison School District’s policy against outing transgender students dismissed

By: - July 10, 2023 4:30 pm

The Progress Pride Flag flies over the Wisconsin Capitol. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

A Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) policy against school officials disclosing to parents that a student uses different pronouns or names than the ones assigned at birth without the consent of the student survived a lawsuit on Monday after the two right-wing groups that brought the suit decided not to continue pursuing an appeal. 

The two groups, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), brought the lawsuit challenging the policy in 2020 on behalf of 14 anonymous parents. The suit argued that the policy violated the parents’ constitutional right to “direct the upbringing of their children.”

The 2018 policy that the suit was challenging prevents school staff from sharing any identifying or medical information about a transgender, non-binary or gender-expansive student. 

“Transgender, non-binary, and gender-expansive students have the right to discuss and express their gender identity and expression openly and to decide when, with whom, and how much to share private information,” the policy guidance states. “If a student chooses to use a different name, to transition at school, or to disclose their gender identity to staff or other students, this does not authorize school staff to disclose a student’s personally identifiable or medical information.”

Late last year, Dane County Judge Frank Remington dismissed the lawsuit, stating that the parents did not have standing to bring the lawsuit because they hadn’t been harmed by the policy. 

“(Jane Doe 4) does not predict or anticipate she will be harmed, but she nevertheless seeks a declaratory judgment that a transgender student policy of the Madison Metropolitan School District violates her constitutional right to parent,” Remington wrote. “Because she presents no evidence that she predicts, anticipates, or will actually suffer any individual harm, Jane Doe has no standing and her Complaint must be dismissed.”

After initially promising to appeal that decision, the ADF and WILL attempted to have the case bypass Wisconsin’s appellate courts and immediately be heard by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declined to take up the case and rather than having it be heard by the appeals court, the groups withdrew the appeal of Remington’s decision. 

Jon W. Davidson, a staff attorney at the ACLU, which defended the school district in the case, said in a statement that trans and nonbinary students are safer and happier when they’re able to express their gender identities at school and are able to control when and to whom they come out. 

“The dismissal of this appeal brings a welcome conclusion to a protracted and arduous legal battle over the ability of Madison Metropolitan School District students to freely and safely explore their identities on their terms, and we are glad that trans and nonbinary students will continue to have the ability to express themselves at school, without fear of being involuntarily outed by staff,” Davidson said. “We know that trans and nonbinary students are safer when they are able to choose when, how, and who to come out to, and we know that students feel happier and are better able to learn at school when they are affirmed in their gender identity.”


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.