Parents of a 12-year-old Clay County, Florida, student are filing a lawsuit against the child's school district after they said that their daughter had attempted suicide two days in a row following meetings regarding "gender identity confusion" with a school counselor, and that these conversations were withheld from the parents until after the suicide attempts.
"We met with the principal, the assistant principal and the police officer, and the counselor who informed us that our 12-year old-daughter, this is an elementary-schooler, had tried to commit suicide at school by hanging herself twice in two days," Wendell Perez said, according to First Coast News.
Their daughter was admitted to a local hospital's behavioral health unit, where she stayed until Jan. 12. On Jan. 5, the Perez family received a phone call from the school counselor urging them to come to the school immediately.
"The school counselor alleged that it [suicide attempts] was because of a gender identity issue, and that they knew we as parents would not be in agreement because of our Catholic Christian beliefs. My daughter never exhibited any signs of gender confusion or questioning her biological sex," the father said.
"I asked why my daughter had tried to commit suicide. She [the counselor] said because of her identity issues. I asked what those were and she said, 'well, you know, she wants to be called this, and she wants these pronouns,' and she said, 'because she knows that you guys are not going to accept her because of your religious beliefs,'" Maria Perez said.
It wasn't until after these suicide attempts that the parents were made aware of the meetings with their child regarding gender identity confusion, and that the meetings had been occurring for months leading up to the attempts on her life.
According to First Coast News, Wendell Perez said that administrators told the couple that confidentiality issues prevented school officials from telling the parents about these meetings.
"The school counselor went so far as to encourage and call our daughter by a fictitious male name and male pronouns in front of the other students, causing a pattern of bullying against our daughter," Wendell Perez said.
The parents have since filed a lawsuit against the school district with The Child & Parental rights Campaign.
"This lawsuit is about protecting the rights of parents to raise their children in accordance with their beliefs, with their religious beliefs and their understanding of science and biology without the interference of the state," said Vernadette Broyles, the Campaign's president who is representing the Perezes.
The school told First Coast News that they have yet to receive the lawsuit, and denied the claims made by the organization:
"Clay County District Schools has not been served with any legal process and cannot comment on the content of any pleading filed with the court. The district 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. All employees of the district consistently work to ensure that the best interests of all students are served. The district will have no further comment on this matter."
Broyles said the lawsuit is currently being served to the district, adding that the district is adding "insult to injury."
"It is adding insult to injury to assert that these allegations are fabricated when, in fact, they come directly, directly from the statements that were made by school officials to these two parents. And then in addition to the fruit of the poisonous tree of their behavior, with their child ending up in a psych ward for a week, whereas previous to all of this, she was a perfectly healthy little girl," Broyles said.
When questioned why the district would say the claims are fabricated, Broyles said: "It's what schools districts do when they realize that they have liabilities, to deny it."
"I am extremely disappointed with that [the district's statement], extremely disappointed because they have been very impersonal of caring and dismissive," Wendell Perez said. "Clay County, they brag about having an excellent school district. Prove it. They have decided to take an adversarial mode and an extremely arrogant attitude against us, but behold, because pride comes before the fall, we are serious on this. We are vigilant. We are militant, and we are decisive."
The lawsuit is a centerpiece of a bill in the Florida House Judiciary Committee, House Bill 1557. This bill would prohibit schools from withholding information about a child's welfare or well-being from parents.
The bill would also curb conversations between school officials, teachers, and students on gender identity and sexual orientation.
The bill wouldn't stop a district, however, from adopting procedures that would allow staff to withhold said information from a parent if they thought it would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect of the student.
The bill "Requires district school boards to adopt procedures that comport with provisions of law for notifying student's parent of specified information; requires procedures to reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing & control of their children; provides requirements for such procedures, school districts, & personnel; requires DOE to review & update specified materials."
This bill has passed through committee in Florida's House while a similar bill makes its way through the Senate