School Stops Punishing Students Over Pronouns

Aug 6, 2019

CINCINNATI, OH – A sixth-grade male student (“John Doe”) was punished by an assistant principal in an Ohio school district for using the male pronoun “he” in reference to a male student (“Boy A”) and for respectfully stating his opinion that “he is a boy, not a girl,” based on Boy A’s biological sex. The assistant principal told “John” that there would be “consequences” for his statements and she removed him from PE class for the day as part of his punishment.

After Liberty Counsel intervened, the school district claimed the PE class removal was not “formal disciplinary action” and said no record of it exists, but conceded that neither Liberty Counsel’s student client nor others would be subject to discipline for expressing “respectful disagreement on any topic,” nor for using accurate “pronouns in referring to students,” and that teachers would not “coerce any student to use a particular pronoun.” “John’s” parents were satisfied with this result.

School administrators, including the assistant principal, the art teacher, and the music teacher, all referred to Boy A, who publicly claimed to be a girl, by female pronouns such as “she” and “her.” Administrators told other students that Boy A “is a girl” and that the students had to call him by female pronouns and consider him “female.” 

During May 2019, several girls were talking in art class about Boy A “taking girl hormones” and eventually having his “male private parts removed” and that this would “make him a girl.” Liberty Counsel’s client “John,” who considers Boy A to be a friend, politely disagreed and corrected their error that Boy A “is a boy, not a girl.” Two other boys also agreed with “John” that sex is biologically determined at birth: “You are what you’re born with.”

The assistant principal then called “John” to the office and said, “You can have your own beliefs, but Boy A wants to be called a girl,” and there might be “consequences.” The assistant principal accordingly prohibited “John” from participating in PE that day and made him sit in the principal’s office. “John” reported to Liberty Counsel that the other boys received in-school suspension and a one-day out-of-school suspension.

The assistant principal contacted “John’s” mother and told her that he received a lesser punishment of being suspended from gym class because she “did not believe that [“John”] was bullying” and that “he happened to be there with two other boys,” but he still made those statements. Subsequently, “John’s’” parents contacted Liberty Counsel for assistance.

After investigating the facts, Liberty Counsel requested that the district confirm removal of any record of discipline from “John’s” record; confirm that no student would be punished for expressing respectful disagreement on the subject of “transgender” claims by other students; and that no student would be punished or subjected to official coercion for using pronouns consistent with sex.

The school district responded that the PE class removal was not “formal disciplinary action;” that “John’s” record “does not contain any record of disciplinary action;” that the “Board of Education does not discipline students for expressing respectful disagreement on any topic;” and that the “Board of Education does not discipline students for using certain pronouns in referring to students or coerce any student to use a particular pronoun;” and that “no student would be required to use” false pronouns.

Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Students may respectfully share their views without being punished. School administrators were wrong to punish students for expressing their views on something patently obvious. Schools cannot force students to lie about objective reality,” said Staver.

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