Parents Suing SCSD No. 1 for Affirming Student’s Gender Identity Without Their Consent

Sean and Ashley Willey have filed a lawsuit against the Sweetwater County School District No. 1 school board and some administrators for allowing their 16-year-old biological daughter to go by a boy's name and use he/him pronouns in school without their knowledge and consent.
Parents Suing SCSD No. 1 for Affirming Student’s Gender Identity Without Their Consent

Sean and Ashley Willey are suing Sweetwater County School District No. 1 for allowing their child to use a boy's name and use he/him pronouns without their knowledge or consent. SweetwaterNOW photo

ROCK SPRINGS — Rock Springs parents are suing Sweetwater County School District (SCSD) No. 1 school board and a handful of top administrators for allegedly allowing their child to use he/him pronouns and go by a boy’s name at school without their knowledge or consent. 

Sean and Ashley Willey filed a civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming on April 20, against:  The Sweetwater County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees; Kelly McGovern, District Superintendent; Nicole Bolton, SCSD No. 1 Assistant Superintendent; Kayci Arnoldi, SCSD No. 1 Director of Student Services; and Bryant Blake, principal of Black Butte High School. 

The Willeys said SCSD No. 1 personnel were allowing their biological daughter A.S., 16, to use he/him pronouns at school and go by a boy’s name, which is being referred to as “C”. Ashley is the mother and sole legal guardian of A.S. and is a Special Education math teacher in the school district, and Sean is A.S.’s stepfather.

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According to the complaint, the Willeys are suing to vindicate and secure their parental rights to: direct the upbringing and mental health decision-making for their child, to familial privacy, and to exercise their religious freedom. 

Ashley claims that the district administration mandates that school staff purposefully and intentionally mislead and deceive parents by referring to their child by their biological name and gender around the parents, but use the child’s chosen name and pronouns at all other times. 

She also alleges that District policies took away her right, as a teacher, to free exercise of religion and right to free speech by requesting she affirms the discordant gender identity of students, and to do so without telling the parents if the student requests the parents not be told.

The complaint states that the District’s actions in regards to A.S. are particularly “egregious”, as A.S. suffered childhood trauma, and has been under the care of physicians and mental health professionals since that time. Furthermore, A.S. has ADHD and is under an accommodation known as a 504 Accommodation Plan. A 504 Plan requires parental involvement for any issues related to the child’s mental health, the complaint states. 

The Willeys are seeking for the federal court to block the District’s alleged policy that affirms a child’s discordant gender identity and preferred name without parental knowledge or consent. They are also asking that the court block the District from referring to any of their children as any gender other than their biological one, or any name other than their legal one. Ashley is also asking the court to forbid the District from coercing her into calling any child any gender or name that is not their biological gender or legal name, unless parental consent has been given. 

They are also asking for monetary damages to compensate for the alleged harm these policies have caused on their child and the parent-child relationship, and reimbursement for expenses related to this suit, including their attorney fees.  

Issue Comes to Light

In 2021, A.S. was in their Freshman year at Black Butte High School (BBHS). Ashley said that A.S. was under the care of a private counselor, chosen by the Willeys, who was providing trauma therapy. A.S. was experiencing flashback nightmares related to childhood trauma. 

A.S. was also reportedly experiencing discomfort with the pubertal changes in their body, and was discussing these discomforts and their dislike for their body with peers at BBHS. A.S. told the private counselor that they thought they might be “trans”, and the counselor and the Willeys began discussing the issue with A.S. 

However, the Willeys said that at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, A.S. told teachers and staff at BBHS that they wanted to be treated as a boy, and use the name “C”, and be referred to by he/him pronouns. A.S. also requested that District personnel not tell the Willeys. 

More than six months later, on March 29, 2022, Ashley participated in district-wide training where she spoke to BBHS teachers about A.S. Ashley asked one of the teachers if she knew her daughter, “A”, and the teacher replied, “yes, I know A. She’s a sweet girl.” 

Ashley then asked another teacher whether he knew A.S. and showed a photo of A.S. when the teacher said they did not. The first teacher then said to the second teacher, “It goes by ‘C’.” 

Ashley asked how long A.S. had been going by “C”, and both teachers stated that they had done so for the entire school year.  

Discussions with District Staff

Ashley spoke with A.S., stating that A.S. is too young to make such decisions and that being treated as the opposite sex and the use of the alternate name at school had to stop. A.S. told Ashley that they felt pressured to continue using the name and being treated as a boy because that was how District personnel were regarding A.S. 

On that same day, Ashley sent a direct message to BBHS teachers and staff that told them she had learned of her child being referred to as “C” and being treated as a boy. 

“If this continues, then I will take this further and go to the CAB. [Central Administration Building]. She is a CHILD who is not old enough to make life changing decisions such as these…. she has stated multiple times that she felt pressured into calling herself a boy, and that this makes her uncomfortable,” Ashley wrote.

Ashley also sent an email to Principal Blake, instructing him and the BBHS staff to no longer refer to her child as “C”. 

“I am appalled and furious that you and your staff are participating in hiding this from her PARENTS!!!! She is currently in counseling and has been working very hard to understand that she is in fact a TOMBOY which has disappeared since we were in school,” she wrote in the email. 

Blake responded to the email saying he reached out to the District’s Human Resources Department, and that they would reach out to the District’s legal team to get further clarification. Ashley said no further clarification was needed except from her as A.S.’s parent, and that she would be meeting with Bolton and Superintendent McGovern, as she was interpreting Blake’s response as a refusal to follow written parent instructions. 

Student Wishes vs. Parent Requests

During a meeting in April 2022, Bolton allegedly told Ashley that A.S. was being called “A” after requesting teachers and staff to do so. Bolton said, however, that teachers and staff were doing so only because A.S. requested it, not because of parental direction. 

Bolton allegedly said that if A.S. asked for teachers and staff to refer to them as “C” again, then staff would follow A.S.’s request regardless of parental directions. Bolton allegedly added that District personnel would not tell Ashley if A.S. asked to be called “C” again. 

The complaint alleges that, “Ms. Bolton said that the teachers at Black Butte, and Mrs. Willey as a teacher in the District, were required to accede to the wishes of a student who said he or she was trans, wanted to be regarded as the opposite sex with an alternate name and pronouns, and did not want his or her parents told, regardless of parents’ direction or even over their objection.” 

Bolton allegedly said this is the protocol to protect the child’s safety. Bolton allegedly revealed that the District had adopted and implemented a policy, custom, practice or procedure requiring the District staff abide by student directives regarding their names and pronouns at school. 

The Willeys met with McGovern and Blake on April 26, 2022, where Blake allegedly said that A.S. had indicated that their parents wanted A.S. to be called “A”, but A.S. wanted to be called “C”. Blake said the parents’ direction to refer to A.S. as “A” put teachers in a “Catch-22”, because staff had allegedly been told that if a child requested to be called another name and alternate pronouns, then the teachers had to do so. 

McGovern allegedly seconded what Bolton had said earlier, stating that A.S. would be called “A” but only because A.S. requested that, not because the Willeys did. McGovern also allegedly told Ashley that as a teacher in the District, she was not to inform parents about their children’s requests to be called by alternate names or pronouns at school. 

Ashley said that withholding that information from parents would be deceitful, which is against her religious beliefs. 

The Preferred/Chosen Name Procedure

At the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, Ashley received a document from the District that special education staff were supposed to sign, which included a description of the policy that enforces teachers and staff to refer to students as their preferred gender pronouns and names, which is referred to as the Preferred/Chosen Names Procedure. 

The document stated that “violations of this procedure may constitute discrimination based on sex, and may result in discipline”. 

Ashley met with Arnoldi and Bolton on August 15, 2022, to inform them of her concerns and objections to the policy. Arnoldi allegedly said that the District would be abiding by A.S.’s and other students’ requests, not the Willeys’ or other parents’ objections. 

Ashley told Arnoldi and Bolton that her religious beliefs went against affirming a male identity in their daughter, as well as against affirming discordant gender identity in her students. 

After the meeting, Arnoldi allegedly sent an email to Ashley stating that, “[u]nfortunately, we don’t get to base our decisions on personal and religious beliefs. We have to follow the policy and procedures that are set forth by law and recent court cases. As an employee of the district, you will have to abide by the policies that are in place for SCSD #1.” 

Bolton sent out a district-wide email on September 9, 2022 that stated that District staff were “never directed not to talk to parents or to lie to parents” but that decisions about supporting “transgender and gender nonconforming students may involve the student, parents, and District administration.” 

The email further stated that “[T]he District will prioritize safeguarding the physical and psychological well-being of a student. When a student indicates that their family is not supportive of their gender identity and/or the District is concerned for the student’s safety, the District will honor a student’s request for confidentiality until the student consents to the disclosure and/or the District completes an individualized assessment and rules out any particularized and substantiated concern of real harm to the student.” 

The email went on to say that “The expectation is that parents will eventually be involved: the District will support the student in this process and encourage familial involvement whenever possible.” 

School Board Meeting

The issue of teachers being required to keep information regarding a students’ gender identity from parents was brought up during a Board of Trustees meeting on September 12, 2022. McGovern said at that time that these situations are dealt with on a “case-by-case basis”. 

“If there is a fear from the student, if there are extenuating circumstances that the school is aware of, we will honor the privacy of the student,” McGovern said. 

Board Chairwoman Carol Jelaco also said that if the student expresses a fear of telling the parents, then “whatever the student wants is paramount”. 

The complaint alleges that McGovern’s statement at the board meeting contradicts the written directive given to Ashley and other staff, as well as previous comments made by Bolton. 

The Willeys allege that the school board may not have formally enacted a policy through public hearing and board vote, but has acquiesced, and thereby accepted, the implementation of the procedure that requires staff to conceal information regarding a student’s gender identity from parents. 

Sean Willey questioned the school board during the meeting on whether they would provide counseling to the students who are dealing with gender identity issues.

“Now, I understand case-by-case scenario, if you—you guys aren’t psychologists. You’re not licensed counselors. So how can you make the judgment call whether to notify a parent or not on what is going on with their student?” Sean said “…not all students that go through this transgender, that go through these situations, are okay. They’re having issues mentally, and it’s a constant battle internally for them.” 

He further said that he was told the District was protecting his child’s safety, but he questioned why no reports of suspected abuse in the home were filed if that was the case. 

“No claims were made. But they flew under the flag that they were doing it for my child’s safety and protection. If that’s the case, then why was there no claims filed with DFS or the authorities in terms of the protection of my child?” He asked. 

Sean further stated that the defendants’ actions created a rift in the parent-child relationship, and negatively affected A.S.’s mental health. 

Wyoming Law

The Willeys allege that the District is still implementing the Preferred/Chosen Names Procedure with A.S., despite being informed of A.S.’s childhood sexual trauma and mental health issues, as well as the adverse effects affirming A.S.’s discordant gender identity has had on their mental health and familial relationships.

The complaint also states that Ashley has requested to know if her child is asserting a discordant gender identity, and whether her child is requesting that be affirmed at school, however, the District is allegedly withholding that information. 

The Willeys are claiming that this goes against Wyoming Statute 14-1-101, which states that children under 18 cannot consent to mental health or medical procedures unless the child is emancipated, married, in the military, age 12 and seeking smoking cessation, or the parents cannot be located and the matter is urgent. 

Furthermore, Wyoming Statute 14-2-206 states that the liberty of a parent to care, custody, and control of their child is a fundamental right that resides first in the parent, and that the state, or any agency or political subdivision of the state, shall not infringe the parental right. The Willeys claim that the District’s Preferred/Chosen Names procedure is in violation of this state statute.