A Wisconsin school district has opened a Title IX sexual harassment investigation against three middle school boys for failing to use a classmate’s preferred pronouns, the legal organization representing the boys said.
According to Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, the three eighth-grade boys within the Kiel Area School District are accused of using the “wrong pronouns” by not using a student’s preferred “they/them” pronouns.
The legal organization emailed a letter to the school district on May 12, asking it to “end its investigation, dismiss the complaints, and remove them from the students’ records.” The legal group also asserted that the investigation is “wholly inappropriate” and legally misguided.
“School administrators can’t force minor students to comply with their preferred mode of speaking. And they certainly shouldn’t be slapping eighth-graders with Title IX investigations for what amounts to protected speech,” said Luke Berg, deputy counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. “This is a terrible precedent to set, with enormous ramifications.”
The use of “biologically correct pronouns,” the letter says, “does not constitute sexual harassment under Title IX or the District’s own policy” and is protected by the First Amendment.
“Sexual harassment, as defined in both Title IX and the District’s policy, typically covers things like rape, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, inappropriate touching, and quid pro quo sexual favors,” the letter says. “None of that -- or anything even close to it – is alleged here.”
If teasing occurred, the letter says, then it “can and should be dealt with” through the “ordinary disciplinary process,” although the letter urges the district to “treat both sides equally when the teasing goes both ways.”
“But none of this warrants accusations of sexual harassment and the serious reputational harm that comes with it,” the letter says.
The letter from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty also discusses the awkwardness of “they/them” pronouns.
“Many people reasonably believe that ‘sex is fixed … regardless of an individual’s feelings or desires’ and do not want to endorse the idea that gender is self-declared,” the letter says. “The use of ‘they/them’ pronouns, in particular, is awkward, grammatically incorrect, and, until recently, unheard of. Indeed, illustrating how difficult it is to refer to a single person as a ‘they/them,’ our clients have frequently heard the Title IX investigator, teachers, other staff, and students refer to the student in question using she/her pronouns.”
The school district sent a letter to parents saying it is legally required to investigate the students, according to NBC26.
“Under federal law, when the District receives a report of harassment based on sex, including gender identity, the District is obligated to act.,” the district said.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.