Florida has recently banned sex education before fourth grade, but Maryland is a different world: For years, the state school system has directed teachers not to inform parents about gender-transitioning students.
Since 2015, Maryland State Department of Education guidelines have said public schools have no legal obligation to disclose a transgender or gender nonconforming student’s sexuality to parents. Those students have the right “to decide when, with whom, and how much private information” to share about changes in their gender identities.
In Montgomery County, parents are awaiting a federal ruling on their 2020 lawsuit to overturn a school district policy that requires teachers to hide how gender-transitioning students identify at school by reverting to “birth” names and pronouns with “unsupportive” caregivers.
“Based on remarkably little information, the schools are willing to hide from parents that their children are making life-altering decisions, cutting those children off from the care and counsel of those who know them best,” said lawyer Rick Claybrook, who is representing the parents. “This violates not just common sense, but the federal and state constitutions, federal and state laws and regulations, and medical standards of care for transgender minors.”
Across the country, parents have increasingly challenged the sexual content of materials and policies in schools, prompting changes in government as well as education in red states. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, last month signed the Parental Rights in Education bill, which critics have denounced as the “Don’t Say Gay” act.
In the deep-blue state of Maryland, state officials in June updated the Comprehensive Health Education framework, which prescribes responses for an escalating series of gender identity questions from preschoolers to high schoolers.
Using a Maryland Public Information Act request, Fox 45 News in Baltimore first reported this month that an LGBTQ presentation advises Harford County teachers how to respond when students say “they are currently transitioning” and their parents do not know.
“You may be unsure if [the parents] are supportive of this transition or not,” one of the presenters says. “What you could say is, ‘Thank you for letting me know. Is there anything that I can do to support you?’”
The presenter adds: “And just like the question regarding the roster, or the ‘what would you do scenario’ — same exact question — you can say back, ‘When I communicate with your parent or guardian, what name and pronouns would you like me to use?’”
In a subsection on “gender identity and expression,” Standard 1c of the health framework says preschoolers need to learn only to “recognize and respect that people express themselves in many different ways.”
At the kindergarten level, the standard says students must “recognize a range of ways people identify and express their gender.” By the time children reach grade seven, the standard tells teachers to have them “compare sex assigned at birth and gender identity and explain how they may or may not differ.”
The high school standard instructs health teachers: “Examine the impact of gender expression and gender identity on members of marginalized communities and analyze the intersectionality of race, culture, and gender for members of those communities.”
A spokesperson for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who is term-limited, said the health education framework was “developed independently” and did not include the governor’s name.
“Curriculum decisions are made by local school systems, and the governor strongly believes that parents should have a say in those decisions. In addition, school systems are required to provide students with the ability to opt out of the curriculum,” Communications Director Michael Ricci said in an email.
State education officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Conservatives say collaboration in such matters should start with school systems referring gender identity questions to parents. The Heritage Foundation said in a March 2021 report that the Constitution and federal law “do not grant public school districts the authority to circumvent parental consent or notification” about changes in a student’s gender identity.
Julie Giordano, a mother and an 11th-grade English teacher at James M. Bennett High School in Salisbury, Maryland, has accused school officials of evading parental scrutiny and ignoring parental rights in these matters.
“When you’re telling teachers they don’t have to keep parents in the loop, it very much goes against educational transparency,” said Ms. Giordano, who is running as a Republican for Wicomico County executive.