Mt. Lebanon mothers sue school district, teacher over gender identity lessons

Three Mt. Lebanon mothers are suing the school district, its leaders, its school board and a first-grade teacher for the alleged teaching of gender identity issues to elementary-age students, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court.

The suit, filed by parents Carmilla Tatel, Stacy Dunn and Gretchen Melton, contends the district and first-grade teacher Megan Williams at Jefferson Elementary School undermined their parental right to direct their children’s education and upbringing and violated their First Amendment rights by teaching topics they say go against their moral and religious beliefs.

“The complaint filed against the district, its board and employees contains various allegations that are untrue or based on partial truths that mischaracterize events for sensational effect,” district spokeswoman Kristen James said in a statement.

According to the lawsuit, Williams taught her first-grade students about gender identity and played a video for the class titled “Jacob’s New Dress.” Doing so, the mothers say, amounted to Williams “interjecting her own personal life and views into the classroom.”

They allege that Williams “explained to her students that ‘sometimes parents are wrong’ and parents and doctors ‘make mistakes’ when they bring a child home from the hospital.” They also argued that books such as “When Aiden Became a Brother” and “Introducing Teddy” were inappropriate for the “captive audience” that was the first-graders.

“Neither of these books is listed on any curriculum or book list for first grade instruction in the district or part of any instructional materials made available to parents by the district,” the lawsuit alleges. “In clear violation of Pennsylvania law and district policy, parents had no notice that these books/videos would be played, nor were they provided an opt-out right.”

The lawsuit contends that the district has offered for parents to opt out of other “historical and scientific topics,” including “the Holocaust, slavery, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, reproductive education, sex education, Black Lives Matter, and Planned Parenthood.”

The parents say the curriculum made available to them contained a section called “counseling” and, among other aspects, mentions teaching diversity and inclusion as its only reference to potentially covering gender identity.

The lawsuit contends that Williams’ teaching of such “unrequested and unconsented” topics is just as bad as a neighbor, unsolicited, engaging a child in such a discussion.

“On another level, however, it is far worse,” the lawsuit continues, “because her role as a teacher gives her a unique ability to influence the young children in her class.”

The parents allege their concerns, when taken to district officials, fell on deaf ears, as did the objections they raised with Williams, herself. They said Jefferson Elementary principal Brett Bielewicz signed off on Williams’ showing of the aforementioned videos and books, and in doing so “gave his ad hoc approval to Williams and gave no notice to these parents or any other parents.”

Parents said in the lawsuit that Williams told them they would “need to agree to disagree” and “100% I have an agenda.”

The parents also objected to Williams wearing what they called “Black Lives Matter clothing” and her decision not to have her class recite the Pledge of Allegiance until she was forced to do so two months into the school year, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks the court to rule that the district and Williams violated the law by teaching gender identity-related topics outside of the curriculum and requests punitive damages for “using plaintiffs’ children as part of an unconsented to social/thought experiment by a teacher without the appropriate training or background to do so.”

In addition to Williams and Bielwicz, those named as defendants are: Superintendent Timothy Steinhauer, assistant superintendent Marybeth Irvin and all school board members.

James declined further comment on behalf of the district, citing the pending litigation, but referred to the district’s Equity Statement: “The Mt. Lebanon School District is committed to providing a safe, inclusive, and welcoming school environment that recognizes and celebrates the diverse identities of all members of our school community, including students, their families, faculty, and staff. All students, regardless of background, identity, or ability will be supported to reach their full potential and pursue their unique talents. The District will provide resources in a just and equitable manner and remove barriers to allow students to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.”

* Article from: