February 27, 2023
Friend-of-the-court brief warns that reversing public schools’ long-understood discretion in disclosing information about student identity would inappropriately insert schools into parent-child relationships, undermine students’ engagement with learning, and deter them from seeking support at school.
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the ACLU of New Hampshire today filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the New Hampshire Supreme Court to uphold a Manchester School District policy providing support for transgender students. Joining GLAD and the ACLU-NH as amici on the brief are New Hampshire parent Heather Romeri and her son Nico, a New Hampshire high school student, Directors of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for New Hampshire public schools, as well as faith leaders, medical organizations, and LGBTQ advocacy organizations.
The brief highlights the vital educational interests served by the Manchester School District’s policy of supporting and affirming the gender identity of students at school. That policy includes referring to students by their requested names and pronouns and maintaining student privacy when appropriate. The amici argue that a bright-line ruling mandating that schools disclose such information to parents without regard to the student’s wishes and circumstances would inappropriately and sometimes harmfully insert schools into parent-child relationships, would deter students from seeking support and sharing information at school, and would negatively impact the learning environment of all students.
“New Hampshire’s public schools have a long history of working in partnership with parents and students to foster a learning environment where all students are safe, respected, and thriving. For transgender students, that must include trust to express themselves at school and to be respected for who they are, even as they are preparing to do so at home,” said Chris Erchull, Attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. “Forcing schools to disclose such information against a student’s wishes not only takes away a trusted source of support from the student, it inserts the school into family life in a manner that forecloses the opportunity for an important conversation between child and parent.”
“It was important for me to have the support of other people I could trust to help me feel ready to talk to my parents, especially people who could help make it easier for me to talk to my mom,” said Nico Romeri, a New Hampshire transgender high school student. “Transgender students want the same opportunity to learn and be ourselves, just like any kid, without having to worry that adults at school will violate our trust. If someone had decided to tell my mom what they thought about my gender, it would have made things so much harder for me at school and at home.”
“I’m so grateful that Nico has the support he needs in school,” said Nico’s mother, Heather Romeri. “Of course I want my child to feel he can talk to me about anything, but above all I want him to feel safe and happy. I understand that he needed to be able to talk about what he was going through with others before he came to me, and I’m so glad he had that chance, just as I am glad that he had the chance to see how much his family loves and supports him once he was ready to come to us.”
“LGBTQ+ students in Manchester and all of New Hampshire deserve to feel safe being who they are when they are at school,” said Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Hampshire. “Outing LGBTQ+ youth to their parents or guardians against their wishes and with no regard for whether it puts them in harm’s way is wrong. We hope the New Hampshire Supreme Court agrees and upholds the Manchester School District’s policy.”
Doe v. Manchester School District is before the state’s highest court on appeal from a lower court ruling which upheld the school district’s policy. GLAD and ACLU-NH’s brief urges the high court to affirm that ruling which found the policy to be in line with state and federal constitutional requirements and state and federal law. The brief also cites substantial research showing that a positive school climate that fosters a sense of safety, belonging, and respect is optimal for learning and has deep and long-lasting effects for every child who experiences it. By maintaining a policy of affirming and supporting transgender students, the Manchester district is meeting its obligation to provide a safe and equal educational environment for all students.