Although the number of young people who identify as transgender in the United States remains small, it has nearly doubled in recent years, and schools have come under pressure to address the needs of those young people amid a polarized political environment where both sides warn that one wrong step could result in irreparable harm.
The public school that Mrs. Bradshaw’s son attends is one of many throughout the country that allow students to socially transition — change their name, pronouns, or gender expression — without parental consent. Districts have said they want parents to be involved but must follow federal and, in some cases, state guidance meant to protect students from discrimination and violations of their privacy.
But dozens of parents whose children have socially transitioned at school told The Times they felt villainized by educators who seemed to think that they — not the parents — knew what was best for their children. They insisted that educators should not intervene without notifying parents unless there is evidence of physical abuse at home. Although some didn’t want their children to transition at all, others said they were open to it, but felt schools forced the process to move too quickly, and that they couldn’t raise concerns without being cut out completely or having their home labeled “unsafe.”
Conservative legal groups have filed a growing number of lawsuits against school districts, accusing them of failing to involve parents in their children’s education and mental health care. Critics say groups like these have long worked to delegitimize public education and eradicate the rights of transgender people.
But how schools should address gender identity cuts through the liberal and conservative divide. Parents of all political persuasions have found themselves unsettled by what schools know and don’t reveal.
Judges have dismissed many of the lawsuits. In December, a federal judge threw out Mr. Foote’s case, writing that affirming a student’s gender identity was not necessarily a medical intervention or even evidence of social transition, but “simply accords the person the basic level of respect expected in a civil society generally.”
However, the judge acknowledged that “it is disconcerting” that school administrators might “actively hide information from parents about something of importance regarding their child.”
In January, Mr. Foote filed an appeal.