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Schools are absolutely fine to demoralise children who support trans rights, court rules

Maggie Baska March 4, 2021
Anderson Mill Elementary principal Elizabeth Foster trans lgbt

Anderson Mill Elementary principal Elizabeth Foster (Facebook: Andersonmillelementary)

Schools are within their right to demoralise children who support trans rights, according to a terrifying court ruling about a school in South Carolina.

A principal at an elementary school in Moore, South Carolina was in the right when she banned a student’s pro-trans essay from a school booklet, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The child, named in court documents only as RRS, was 10 years old when she was assigned to write an “essay to society” in 2019. The court heard her maternal grandfather is part of the LGBT+ community, and RRS is a “proud advocate of LGBTQ rights”.

So she decided to write about LGBT+ equality for the assignment. Her essay, reprinted here verbatim, stated the following:

“To society,

“I don’t know if you know this but peoples view on Tran’s genders is an issue. People think that men should not drees like a women, and saying mean things. They think that they are choosing the wrong thing in life.

“In the world people can choose who they want to be not being told that THEIR diction is wrong. I hope people understand that people can hurt themselves from others hurting their feelings. People need to think before they speak because one word can hurt someone’s feelings. We need to fix this because this is getting out of hand!”

The court heard Anderson Mill Elementary School principal Elizabeth Foster reviewed the essays submitted by the fourth grade class before they were compiled into an essay booklet. But she instructed RRS’ teacher to inform the child that her essay would not be included in the booklet because, in her view, the topic was “not appropriate”.

RRS then revised her essay, which addressed bullying instead of LGBT+ rights.

US circuit judge Stephanie Thacker, a Barack Obama-appointee, wrote in her judgment: “Principal Foster’s initial refusal to include [the student’s] essay in the fourth grade class’ essay booklet was actuated at least in part by her concern that the essay’s topic was ‘not age appropriate’ for fourth graders.”

Mother filed complaint against school after ‘abusive’ messages from principal

Hannah Robertson, the mother of RRS, filed a complaint against the South Carolina school on 6 March, 2019.

Shortly before she filed the complaint, Robertson said Foster had “defended her decision” to not include RRS’ LGBTQ-themed essay in the essay booklet through “a series of increasingly abusive, harassing, emotionally distressful and/or clearly unwarranted communications with” her.

During these conversations, Robertson said Foster provided the following justifications for her decision including: “the original paper would make other parents upset”; it “would create a [sic] undesirable situation at the school”; “was not acceptable”; “it was not age-appropriate to discuss transgenders, lesbians, and drag queens outside of the home”; and “due to the type of school this is, the people that work here and the students and families of the students that go here, the topic would be disagreeable”.

In a letter dated 15 March, 2019, Foster informed Robertson that she had decided that both of the child’s papers would be published in the essay booklet. In turn, Robertson cited concerns about the child’s privacy and said she no longer wanted the original essay to be in the booklet.

Robertson argued the South Carolina principal’s removal of the trans essay as part of the classroom assignment amounted to a violation of her child’s First Amendment rights, arguing Foster deprived RRS of her “right to engage in protected speech”.

But a lower court dismissed the student’s claim.

The family appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

However, on Tuesday (3 March), a three-judge panel for the appeals court upheld the original ruling. The judgement cited the 1998 Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood School District v Kuhlmeier, which declared that schools could censor students as long as it was “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns”.

The court held that the principal’s decision to ban RRS’ essay fell within the Supreme Court judgment because Foster was motivated, at least in part, by a concern that the topic was not “age appropriate”. As such, the court found the South Carolina school’s decision not to publish the trans essay did not infringe on RRS’ First Amendment rights.

Jasmine Rogers Drain, partner at Halligan Mahoney and Williams and who represented the school, did not wish to comment on the ruling.

Eric Poston, managing partner at Chalmers Poston LLC, represented the family in this case. He told PinkNews: “It’s well known in the legal field that, with very few exceptions, appellate judges have already made their decision by the time the attorneys are able to argue their case in front of the judges themselves in what is known as ‘oral argument’.”

Poston explained this case’s oral argument “served only to perpetuate the stereotype” as it appeared the judges were unaware of basic facts about the case.

“When I asked if they had read the essay, I heard crickets – same result when I asked if they were aware that this girl’s mother and grandfather are active members of the LGBTQ community,” Poston said. “They also didn’t appear fully aware of the actual quotes from the principal as to why she banned the essay.”

He added the “most disappointing, preposterous question” he received was whether or not “I agreed that a teacher should be able to decide what they do and do not teach/allow in their classroom”.  Poston told PinkNews: “What made this question so mind boggling is that it revealed how absolutely unaware the judges were of even the most basic facts of the case – that the teacher found the essay acceptable and planned to publish it until the principal single-handedly prevented her from doing so.”

This article was edited to include comment from Jasmine Rogers Drain, the attorney representing the school in this case, and Eric Poston, the attorney representing the family.

More: South Carolina

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