Leavitt blasts Manchester schools transgender policy as violation of parental rights

Sep. 30—Karoline Leavitt, the Republican nominee in the 1st Congressional District race, says policies like one adopted by Manchester schools that prevent teachers from informing parents about their minor children's "transgender status" without the student's permission are violations of parents' inalienable rights.

"Families should always be informed about their children," Leavitt said, speaking to reporters and supporters outside the Manchester School District offices Thursday. "We shouldn't allow bureaucrats and politicians to stand in the way of the family unit. It is the bedrock of our society. It is what makes America the greatest country in the history of the world, and when government is interfering between parents and students, that's never a good place to be."

Leavitt, 25, vowed to support a federal parental bill of rights if elected to Congress.

Leavitt, who appeared alongside concerned parents, spoke out after a Hillsborough County Superior Court judge dismissed a Manchester mother's lawsuit over a school district policy that prevents teachers from informing parents about their minor children's "transgender status" without the student's permission, ruling the protocol doesn't infringe on parents' fundamental rights.

"In our state's largest public school district, with 12,000 students and children, teachers are prohibited from telling parents if their child is identifying as transgender, or being called different names, or being referred to as different pronouns in the classroom," said Leavitt.

"Can you imagine being a mother or father and finding out that your child is being referred to by a different name at school? And you don't know about it? This is a reality for many mothers and fathers in Manchester and here in our state."

Leavitt claims to have received hundreds of calls, e-mails, texts and social media messages from across New Hampshire regarding Manchester's policy.

"I believe that bureaucrats and politicians are absolutely misguiding children because a policy like this is pitting good teachers against good parents and that should not be the role of government," she said.

Leavitt attacked her CD1 opponent, incumbent Democrat Chris Pappas, and other Democrats on this issue.

"When children are sick at school or they break a bone on the playground, or they get into trouble the first call always made is from the school to the parent," Leavitt said. "Why don't Democrats feel that same common sense, unalienable right applies when a student is expressing concerns over their gender? "

In May, a highly charged bill, HB 1431 — which would have given parents more explicit rights to be told when school officials take actions to deal with a child's "gender identity" or "sexual orientation" — was narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives. Gov. Chris Sununu vowed to veto the controversial "parental rights" bill if passed by lawmakers.

Pappas issued a statement Thursday on the Manchester policy and Sununu's threatened veto, saying that as a product of Manchester schools he trusts "parents, students and educators to shape policy and make local decisions that are best for families and the community."

"I agree with Governor Sununu and his veto of legislation that would have put students at risk, and I disagree with Karoline that Congress has a role to play in local decisions like this," Pappas said.

"I understand she's trying to get national attention for her campaign, but playing politics with a deeply personal, family issue is not the New Hampshire way."

Late Thursday, LGBTQ advocates spoke out publicly against Leavitt's comments.

"LGBTQ people belong, and sometimes schools are the only place for LGBTQ youth to feel safe being who they are," said Linds Jakows of 603 Equality. "603 Equality rejects all attempts to create unsafe learning environments for students, risk their mental health, and undermine the state's obligation to provide an adequate and inclusive education for all students."

"Our schools should be places of belonging, where all children have the freedom to learn in a safe and affirming environment," said Sarah Robinson, Education Justice Campaign Director for Granite State Progress. "For some students, coming out puts them in serious danger at home. We have a responsibility for the safety of our students."

Two Londonderry women who attended Leavitt's news conference said they support her views on parental rights.

"I think she'll be a strong voice and show a lot of action when it comes to parents' concerns," said Brittany Cavallo.

"Right now we are seeing across the country that schools are trying to become parents," Maria Barud said. "For me it's very concerning. I grew up in a communist country, and the first thing they do is turn kids against parents. When our kids have an issue or problems they want to discuss, I think parents should be notified about it."

Marcella Termini, a parent of Manchester School District students, said politicians like Leavitt are "attacking LGBTQ+ students just to score political points" and to try and "drive a wedge between parents and public schools."

Concord-based attorney Richard Lehmann, who is representing the Manchester mother in the lawsuit against the district, said his client plans to appeal the decision.

School officials declined to comment on Leavitt's comments or the ruling.

pfeely@unionleader.com