Words Alone Aren’t Title IX Violations

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jul 16, 2022 | 0 Comments

In late March, 2022, the parents of three eighth-graders in the Kiel, Wisconsin Area School District were notified of a Title IX complaint and pending investigation. It alleged the boys sexually harassed another student. The complaint cited their failure to use the pronouns “they” and “them,” which the student had expressed preference for, and instead referred to the student with the pronouns “she” and “her.”

The district's position was that once a student has informed others of preferred alternate pronouns, any other term is a derogatory or sexist remark and punishable under Title IX.

The School District called the boys' behavior “bullying.” But Rosemary Rabidoux, the mother of one of the boys, thought the district's complaint took things too far.

She first thought it was “a gag, a joke,” but was told that the complaint was filed to support all students under Title IX, “regardless of sex, including: gender identity, change of sex, or transgender status.” She thought the district was overreaching by its handling of the matter.

Rabidoux's son got involved in the conflict over the student's pronouns when the student asked his friend to use “they” and “them” instead of “she” and “her.” “My son began defending his friend, saying, 'He doesn't have to use proper pronouns, it's his constitutional right. You can't make him say things,'” says Rabidoux.

Puzzled Students, Worried Parents and Community Uproar

The emotionally charged Title IX complaint became a public issue in the school district. Some people in the community began referring to the school district as the “Pronoun Police,” and several different threats were leveled by angry parents against the school.

But toward the end of May, the district suddenly dropped its complaint without explanation. Shortly thereafter, it became clear that legally, “mispronouning” alone is not sexual harassment under Title IX and that the school district may have infringed on the students' First and Fifth Amendment rights of free speech and due process.

Rabidoux says she will continue to monitor the matter to make certain no mention of the incident remains on her son's record. But this event tolls a deeper warning. In the U.S., mistakes often made by naive schoolchildren can quickly be blown out of proportion when administrators overreact to their behavior, rather than taking a breath and responding with an even hand.

National Title IX Student Rights Law Firm

Gender equality and identity statutes under Title IX remain subject to interpretation throughout the U.S., and words or actions can be misconstrued. Secondary school Title IX disciplinary violations attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento at the Lento Law Firm has successfully represented hundreds of students nationwide who become ensnared in bullying and sexual harassment disputes. The Lento Law Firm offers the expertise to assist you at every stage of the proceeding, for the best possible outcome. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation and case evaluation. Or you can reach the firm online.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients nationwide. Attorney Lento and his team represent students and others in disciplinary cases and various other proceedings at colleges and universities across the United States. Attorney Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand colleges and universities across the United States, and when necessary, he and his team have sought justice on behalf of clients in courts across the nation. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide, and he can help you or your student address any school-related issue or concern anywhere in the United States.


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