Jefferson County parents allege a Jeffco Public Schools policy violated their parental rights after they found out their daughter was assigned to sleep in the same bed as a transgender girl on an overnight school trip.
District officials said they were reviewing a letter sent to the Board of Education and Superintendent Tracy Dorland on Monday by an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom. The letter detailed the concerns Joe and Serena Wailes had about the treatment of their 11-year-old daughter, identified as D.W., on a school trip in June to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Alliance Defending Freedom is a nonprofit legal organization “committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights and the sanctity of life,” according to the group’s website. It’s also been a key player in the political right’s campaign against transgender rights.
According to the letter, parents were told before the trip that boys and girls would be on different floors of the hotel. D.W. learned the student she was assigned to share a bed with was a transgender girl when the student told her on the first night of the trip, the letter says.
D.W. called her mom, Serena Wailes, who was also on the trip, and said she did not feel comfortable sharing a bed with the other student, according to the letter.
D.W. and Serena Wailes spoke with a trip chaperone and the school principal, who asked D.W. if they could move her to another bed in the same room, which she agreed to despite still feeling uncomfortable, the letter says. But school staff told D.W. to lie, according to the letter, and say that she needed to sleep closer to the air conditioner; when she was back in the room, another student asked the transgender girl about also changing beds.
Serena Wailes and her daughter again asked that she be moved. The letter says the transgender girl and another girl were moved to a different room. The letter alleges that school officials disregarded D.W.’s privacy and the Wailses’ parental rights, and that they silenced D.W. when a teacher told her and two other students in the room that they were not allowed to share with others that the girl was trans.
In a statement, Jeffco Public Schools officials said they were taking the parents’ complaint seriously. They said student safety was paramount and their partnership with families was a priority in the district.
“Because the district was only recently informed, and the trip occurred outside of the school year and through a private travel organization, we are still determining facts,” district officials wrote in a statement. “However, it appears that the student’s transgender status was not known when room assignments were made and our understanding is that as soon as their transgender identity was known, room assignments were adjusted.”
The letter sent on the parents’ behalf suggested Jeffco Public Schools policy regarding students’ gender identity was unequally applied because the district did not offer the same privacy protections to all students.
“Because JCPS’s policy prioritizes the ‘safety and comfort’ of only transgender students to the exclusion of all other students, there was no way for D.W.’s parents to request an accommodation prior to the trip so they could protect D.W.’s privacy and ‘minimiz[e] stigmatization’ of D.W.,” the letter states. “Therefore, an 11-year-old child was placed in a position where she feared social backlash if she requested a different room in front of other students.”
The Wailses have two children registered to attend the same trip next year. The letter requested clarification of whether parents would be “informed of the sex of their children’s roommates” on school-sponsored trips beforehand and on whether parents could opt their children out of any policy that groups children in rooms by gender identity rather than by birth sex.
The district says officials are working with the travel organization to learn more and expects to respond by the Dec. 18 deadline requested by Alliance Defending Freedom.