A New Jersey school district is facing a civil rights complaint from the state’s attorney general after board of education representatives voted to instate a “parental notification” policy that the state says could target LGBTQ+ students.
The policy, referred to as board policy 8463 or “Parental Notification of Material Circumstances” in a letter from Hanover Township Public Schools, was voted on in a board meeting on Tuesday. Six of the nine board members were in attendance; four members voted to enact the policy. There were only two public comments, one against the policy and one in support of it, before the vote.
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced in a news release that he was filing a Division of Civil Rights complaint seeking to block the policy, saying the requirements to notify parents about a student’s sexuality or gender identity were discriminatory and in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The attorney general and the Division on Civil Rights also filed an emergency court motion requesting a preliminary injunction and temporary restraints to stop the policy from going into effect while the challenge remains pending.
In the district’s letter, sent on Wednesday, the Board of Education addressed the challenge, saying the attorney general was “incorrectly” interpreting the policy and calling his comments about LGBTQ+ students “erroneous assertions.”
“Policy 8463 does not unlawfully discriminate against any student on the basis of protected status whatsoever,” the letter read. “Rather, a simple reading of Policy 8463 reveals that it requires school staff members to notify appropriate school administrators and a student’s parents whenever the staff member is made aware of any facts or circumstances that may have a material impact on the student’s physical and/or mental health and/or social/emotional well-being.”
Those issues, the letter said, can include substance use, peer pressures, school performance, eating disorders, anti-social behaviors, pornography or “preoccupation with anti-social music,” along with numerous other issues. The letter does include “sexual activity; sexuality; sexual orientation; transitioning; (and) gender identity or expression” as things that parents would need to be notified about.
In the news release, the state attorney general’s office clarified that there is no challenge against parts of the policy that they say do not violate the Law Against Discrimination, such as requirements of parental notification related to substance use, alcohol use, firearms or unlawful activity.
“In New Jersey, we will always work tirelessly to protect our LGBTQ+ youth from discrimination,” Platkin said on Twitter. “That’s why we’re challenging the Hanover Township Board of Education’s new policy requiring staff to out LGBTQ+ students to their parents.”
New Jersey governor Phil Murphy retweeted Platkin’s comment and said that he supported the challenge.
“Hanover Township Board of Education’s new policy requiring staff to “out” LGBTQ students to their parents violates the rights of our students — jeopardizing their well-being and mental health,” Murphy wrote.
Some state leaders have praised the policy, with state senator Joe Pennacchio writing on Twitter that the board “should be applauded for making a real effort to ensure that parents are informed of anything that could impact the mental or physical well-being of their children.”
State senator Edward Durr said the district was “absolutely right to try to ensure parents are made aware of any of the dozens of concerns identified by the new policy that could impact the well-being of THEIR children.”
“Parents should never be forced out!” he added.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s New Jersey branch has also commented on the challenge, criticizing the policy and saying that informing a student’s parents of their sexual orientation or gender identity without consent “not only invades their privacy, but can open an LGBTQ+ student to depression, bullying, suicide, violence or even abandonment by families.”
“Enacting a policy that has teachers policing their schools to out LGBTQ+ students is a disconcerting return to tactics used to criminalize sexual orientation and gender identity,” the ACLU said. “It targets students based on their LGBTQ+ status and cannot stand.”
The challenge comes amid a rise in legislation that advocates say targets the LGBTQ+ community. Several states have banned gender-affirming care for transgender youth, and according to PEN America, 41% of the 1,648 unique book titles banned between July 2021 and June 2022 involved LGBTQ+ characters.