Middle schoolers accused of sexual harassment for not using preferred pronouns, parents say

The parents say their boys are being investigated for ignoring a student's preferred pronouns. A section of Title IX prohibits name-calling on the basis of gend
Published: May. 15, 2022 at 10:39 PM CDT|Updated: May. 15, 2022 at 10:40 PM CDT
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KIEL, Wis. (WBAY/Gray News) - The parents of three Wisconsin middle school students are asking the school district to stop a sexual harassment investigation into their sons and clear their records of any sort of charges or investigation.

The parents say that according to the Kiel Area School District, the Kiel Middle School students are under investigation for mispronouncing pronouns when referring to a classmate.

Last month, the parents of the three eighth-graders were notified their sons were being charged by school district officials with sexual harassment. A section of Title IX prohibits gender-based harassment in the form of name-calling on the basis of sex.

The district claims the boys were not referring to the student’s requested pronouns of “they” and “them.”

Rose Rabidoux, the mother of a student involved, told WBAY she accompanied her son the day after the notification to an interview with school officials. She told them the use of the pronouns was confusing to her son, and he had no obligation to refer to the classmate by those pronouns.

“Sexual harassment, that’s rape, that’s incest, that’s inappropriate touching,” Rabidoux said. “What did my son do? He’s a little boy. He told me that he was being charged with sexual harassment for not using the right pronouns.”

Rabidoux said the classmate only announced their preferred pronouns earlier this year and preferred those pronouns be used when identifying them.

“It’s plural. It doesn’t make sense to him. ... So, I told him to call them by their names,” Rabidoux said.

Through a letter from their attorney, the parents are asking for the charges to be dropped immediately, saying they have no standing legally.

“It’s not sexual harassment under Title IX, under their own policy, under federal law, and it’s probably a First Amendment violation. Almost certainly, if that’s their theory, that solely using the wrong pronoun, that would be a First Amendment violation,” said Luke Berg with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

The attorney also said the charges have no standing under the school district’s own policy.

“Eighth-graders shouldn’t be subjected to this kind of investigation or this type of reputational harm for something that on its face clearly doesn’t violate Title IX in sexual harassment. Their own policy says that if on the face of the complaint the conduct, even if proven, wouldn’t amount to sexual harassment, it should be immediately dismissed. That’s what should have happened here, and it didn’t,” Berg said.

The school district doesn’t comment on student matters but provided this statement from Superintendent Brad Ebert:

“The KASD prohibits all forms of bullying and harassment in accordance with all laws, including Title IX, and will continue to support ALL students regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, sex (including transgender status, change of sex or gender identity), or physical, mental, emotional or learning disability (”Protected Classes”) in any of its student programs and activities; this is consistent with school board policy. We do not comment on any student matters.”

The boys’ families have asked for a response from the district by next Friday. Their attorney tells us if the boys’ records aren’t cleared and they are punished, there is a strong possibility they’ll pursue legal action against the district.

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