Arizona’s largest school district is flouting state law and its own governing board by covertly instructing students how to assert a different gender identity at school without their parents knowing and hiding evidence of its misdeeds, according to an outspoken member of the board.
Former President Trump aide Stephen Miller’s America First Legal is representing Rachel Walden in her Maricopa County Superior Court lawsuit against Mesa Public Schools and Superintendent Andi Fourlis, which alleges they schemed to circumvent the Arizona Parents’ Bill of Rights after the community learned it was blocking parental notification.
Walden also claims the board “never voted to adopt or authorize” the contested gender transition policy, whose heading is dated August 2015, “or any of its constituent elements,” which additionally determine access to restrooms, locker rooms, field trips, “overnight trips” and “gendered activities” such as sports.
While the transgender policy created eight years ago initially required parental consent, it was revised at some point to be “explicit and in writing” that students can veto even notification, according to the suit.
Walden is seeking “special action relief to compel revocation of the trans policy” as both unlawfully imposed without a board vote and “substantively unlawful.” The only action since the suit’s Nov. 20 filing is the assignment of a judge Monday.
America First Legal emphasized in its Nov. 21 announcement on the lawsuit that a UCLA-MIT study from 2014 determined Mesa, the third-largest city in the Grand Canyon State, was the most conservative state in the U.S. with more than 250,000 people.
“The latest version of the policy only requires parental notification after MPS has started helping a student to socially transition in school, and it’s not even clear whether those notifications are really happening,” AFL said, asking sympathetic parents in the district to reach out.
“Just so gross” is how the Arizona Education Association responded to the lawsuit. “These constant attacks on LGBTQ kids & educators accomplish nothing — except advancing an extreme political agenda,” the group wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Most registered voters nationwide disagree, judging by a new poll by The Center Square and Noble Predictive Insights.
Among 2,500 respondents, about 40% each Republican and Democratic and 20% independents, two-in-three favored parental notification when students assert gender identities and pronouns at odds with their sex in school.
Even a plurality of Democrats (49%) favored notification, with just 30% opposed and the rest undecided.
The district also got in trouble with the Arizona Department of Education in June. Superintendent Tom Horne said MPS was “in discussion with the department” about a report through the official “Empower School Hotline” that it trains teachers to believe some Americans live “under a system of white supremacy.”
Elected to the board a year ago, Walden has been vocal against MPS on transgender issues, the Arizona Republic reported.
She has criticized various policies and curriculum decisions at schools in the district on her official social media pages. Walden described a video whitewashing communism, allegedly shown to high schoolers, as “some of the garbage they taught me in graduate school” for history, which is “why I left academia.”
MPS revised the gender-related documents this summer after “controversy arose in the local community … to obfuscate the policy,” now giving students a “more subtle way” to circumvent the parental notification required by law, according to the suit.
Superintendent Fourlis denied that students are “placed on Transgender Support Plans without parent notification,” and that plans help students with “medical transitions,” in a June 14 memo to district staff and families after a contentious governing board meeting.
Both denials are false, according to the suit. It claims that multiple students and “at least one elementary school student” were placed on plans without parental notification, and the guidelines contain no prohibitions on helping with medical transitions. The suit includes a “redline version” showing the changes between versions.
It also refers to a March email from a junior high school counselor that orders staff members not to “disclose information that may reveal a student’s transgender status or gender nonconforming presentation to others” except as authorized by the student’s support plan.
Walden challenged the superintendent’s claim at the time.
“If this is the case then the district needs to stop ignoring requests to put these assurances into writing in the guidelines,” Walden wrote on Facebook.
MPS has not removed the contested documents from public access – the “Guidelines for Support of Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students” (revised June 13), “Support Checklist” (revised June 14) and “Support Plan” (updated Aug. 23, 2022) – but it appears to have made them more difficult to find.
It moved the legal and policy services section of its website to a different web address sometime after July 1, and the content changed. The district removed a transgender page, archived May 31, that links to the guidelines and support plan, while posting the guidelines and checklist directly to the new legal page.
The support plan, but not the checklist, includes this instruction in bold: “School staff shall not disclose information that may reveal a student’s transgender status or gender nonconforming presentation to others.”
The district revised the support plan in August 2022 by removing questions about parental notification, which had given students veto power, while “enlarg[ing] the typeface” of questions pertaining to its student database Synergy.
“Parents/guardians will be notified” if students request a name or gender change in Synergy, it now states.
The checklist showed, when Just the News viewed it Monday afternoon, that Cameo Kirby, assistant to the governing board, was editing the document next to the line: “Parents/guardians are notified of the support(s) provided at school.” (All referenced documents are included as exhibits as well.)
While this line was missing from the original checklist, the updated version only “pays lip service to MPS’s constitutional and statutory duty to notify parents” while telling students how to circumvent it, AFL claims: Don’t “formally” request “support.”
The checklist also gives students several boxes they can check on who should be notified of their gender preferences, but none that mentions parents.
They can additionally check boxes for settings and activities where “alternative arrangements may need to be considered,” from restrooms and sports to extracurricular activities and overnight trips.
MPS Director of Community and Engagement Jen Snyder told Just the News it can’t comment on ongoing litigation. Fourlis didn’t respond.
A law firm hired by the district to review the guidelines this spring said they did not violate state or federal laws.
The Arizona-based law firm Udall Shumway also said it saw “no contradiction” between the Parents’ Bill of Rights and “what the Guidelines recommend to staff as a tool to assist in addressing the students’ needs.”