The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a preliminary injunction this week against an Iowa school district that threatened to suspend or expel students who refused to use transgender pronouns when speaking to gender-confused students.
The pronoun policy is part of a larger lawsuit against the district’s overall approach to transgender issues. Alaska was one of 18 states that joined a brief opposing the school district’s multi-faceted transgender policy.
While the three-judge federal panel declined to rule on other aspects of the policy, such as schools keeping parents in the dark about their child’s gender identity, it noted that these disputes were resolved on the state level when Iowa enacted a law this summer barring schools from providing parents with “false or misleading information” about their children’s gender identity or “intention to transition.”
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On the question of pronoun usage, however, the judge panel blocked enforcement of the policy, stating that a “school district cannot violate the strictures of the First Amendment simply because a student’s speech is found to be “merely offensive to some listener.”
The issue came to a head when Iowa parents raised concern that their children were fearful of being punished for claiming that biological sex is immutable and unchanging.
The Iowa school district’s policy required students to demonstrate an ill-defined “respect” for those who wished to be addressed by a pronoun that did not fit their biological sex.
In ruling against the district, the court said the policy was poorly defined and open to arbitrary enforcement.
The Iowa policy has many similarities to the Anchorage School District’s policy, which, while pertaining to staff, states that they “should respect the right of an individual to be addressed by a name and pronoun that corresponds to their gender identity.”
Anchorage’s policy also directs staff to conceal a student’s gender identity from parents the student indicates otherwise.