South Whidbey School District joins lawsuit over parents’ rights law

ACLU lawsuit argues that new law violates contradicts with existing laws.

The South Whidbey School District joined an ACLU lawsuit against the state which argues that the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” violates the state constitution because it doesn’t disclose contradictions with existing laws.

The ACLU and others raised concerns about Initiative 2081, passed by the state Legislature, claiming it contains vague language that changes state laws by limiting the privacy right of students, which would be particularly harmful to LGBTQ+ children, youth of color and victims of sexual violence.

The ACLU of Washington, Legal Voice and QLaw — a legal advocacy foundation for LGBTQ+ people — filed the lawsuit on behalf of 10 plaintiffs. South Whidbey School District is the only school district directly named as a plaintiff, although other districts passed resolutions voicing concerns about the law.

Joining the lawsuit will not cost the school district anything, according to Taryn Darling, ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Taryn Darling.

In addition, the Office of the state Superintendent of Public Instruction recently published a statement cautioning school districts from making any policy changes based on the initiative until additional clarity is provided by the courts.

“Through vague and broad language, the initiative amends, contradicts and runs afoul of numerous existing laws that protect students’ privacy rights and laws that are intended to ensure inclusion, student safety and well-being,” the ACLU reported.

On the other hand, Silent Majority Foundation, a conservative group, recently filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit in support of the initiative.

“Silent Majority Foundation stands with the parent-voters of Washington who demanded more transparency regarding their children’s education,” Pete Serrana, general counsel for the group, said in a statement. “No entity, not the state, no political party and no special interest group has the right to stand in the place of the parents, and SMF is here to ensure it stays that way.”

The ACLU lawsuit argues that notification provisions could violate privacy protection provisions in health care and counseling records. While parents already have the right to inspect their children’s school records, the initiative changes the definition of a “record” and may include counseling notes, health records and other documents that are protected under state and federal law, Darling said.

Such disclosures could put students at risk, the lawsuit argues. Gay or transgender students, for example, might face violence at home if they were “outed” by counseling records.

“Initiative 2081 is a forced outing law that will harm LGBTQ+ students if implemented in our schools,” said Denise Diskin, attorney for QLaw Foundation. “LGBTQ+ students seek out safe and trusted school staff when they don’t have a supportive home, and the affirmation they receive can be life-saving. I-2081 undercuts this and other vital resources at a time when youth need support the most.”

Erin Lovell, executive director of the Legal Counsel for Youth and Children, said I-2081 rests on the assumption that all homes are safe “and that is sadly not the case.” Julia Marks, an attorney for Legal Voice, echoed the sentiment, saying that the initiative is intentionally harmful to the most vulnerable students.

“From its vague language to its misleading framing,” she said, “it is a dangerous bill that targets students who need confidential support — from queer youth to youth survivors of sexual violence, to youth who need reproductive or mental health care — and it interferes with the inclusive curricula that all our students deserve.”

The Oak Harbor School Board considered a policy change that would have allowed counselors to “out” gay or transgender students to their families at the counselor’s discretion, but the board chose not to adopt the policy after several board members voiced objections.

If the judge grants the injunction, lawmakers can still consider the I-2081 provisions in the future, Darling said, but the deliberations just need to be fully informed.