Three middle school students in Kiel, Wisconsin, face a Title IX complaint for sexual harassment after being accused of using the wrong pronouns when referring to a classmate.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), which is defending the trio of eighth graders, says that in March a non-binary class peer announced she was to be addressed as “they/them.”
The mother of one of the accused, Rosemary Rabidoux, says the principal called her warning that she would receive an email concerning the allegations. She says she was horrified to hear “sexual harassment,” thinking that it may be anything from inappropriate touching to rape.
When the principal explained the “infraction” to Rabidoux, she thought it was a prank or a joke. Far from it.
Rabidoux says in April the girl who asked to be referenced as “they/them” screamed at her son’s friend to address her properly. Her son told the girl that she could not make his friends say things, that it’s his “constitutional right” to not use “proper” pronouns. The boy’s legal counsel agrees.
WILL declares that Title IX is not meant for speech — certainly not for middle-schoolers — and its application in this case is “an extreme abuse” of the process. The Federal law protects individuals from sexual discrimination in education and programs that receive federal funding.
Deputy counsel Luke Berg adds that school administrators cannot force minors to comply with their “preferred mode of speaking.”
The lawyers sent a letter to the school district asking for the complaint and investigation to be dropped. The notification asks for a response by next Friday, and if the boys are punished or their records reflect the complaint, legal action is highly likely.
The letter asserts that “mispronouning” is not considered harassment under Title IX. It adds that the Department of Education is now attempting to add that infraction to the federal law.
Thus far, the only comment from the Kiel Area School District is to reiterate that it abides by board policy. The District says it prohibits all forms of bullying and harassment and stands behind all students regardless of sex (including transgender status, change of sex or gender identity.)