The Progressive Pronoun Police Come for Middle Schoolers

Kiel, Wis.

To most people, the term “Title IX investigation” is reminiscent of allegations of rape, groping, unwanted sexual advances, or a common pattern of verbal abuse. Think. Wisconsin’s Kiel School District, in the bold red Manitowoc and Calumet counties along the west shore of Lake Michigan, has discovered a new form of harassment. On April 25, they charged three 8th grade boys with sexual harassment — and launched a Title IX investigation — for something called “false pronouns.” These kids used “her” to refer to a classmate who wanted to be called “them”.

It’s easy to dismiss this as weird. You will not find false pronouns in Wisconsin statutes or US codes. It hardly resembles the serious aggression we associate with harassment. It does not in itself constitute conduct “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive as to effectively deny a person’s right to equal access to education” as the Title IX harassment law requires. But the stain that such a crime can leave on these boys’ reputations and the harm done to their futures is real.

The boys’ parents first heard about the allegations when they received a call from the school district that their son was about to be charged with sexual harassment under Title IX. Without prior warning or discussion with families about pronoun use at school, the district did not initially explain what the boys did to warrant investigation for violations of federal law. When the families were finally told that the alleged sexual harassment – a possible federal offense by the boys – was “incorrect pronoun use”, horror quickly turned to panic. “This is real? This must be a joke,” thought Rose Rabidoux, one of the parents.

When parents contacted us at the Wisconsin Institute of Law & Freedom, we all had a similar reaction: This can’t be real. Wow, that’s right. The district appears to believe that once students announce different pronouns to others, any subsequent grammatical and biological use of pronouns — even if not directed at the student — can be The penalty is sexual harassment under Title IX.

We hope Kiel is an outlier, but maybe not. A school board in Virginia is reportedly considering adding a policy to ban “harmful misdirection”. The Biden administration is about to release its long-awaited update to the Title IX regulations and, with the president’s proclamation that transgender discrimination is a civil rights issue of our time, wouldn’t be surprised if the new rules required a pronoun policy. All of this could soon be coming to a school near you.

Obviously, any non-compliance would subject the minor to a dreaded investigation. Parents need to stand up against this wherever it raises its ugly head. Middle school is hard enough as it is. Young students should not live in fear of punishment if they do not conform to the ever-changing trends of the left in terms of speech. And they should know that they have the right to respectfully disagree with the idea that gender is self-proclaimed. Of course, it is wrong to tease or bully other students — including by using names or pronouns. But generations have been raised into well-mannered adults without formal investigations and federal criminal charges. When common sense is lost in places like Kiel, something is amiss.

Title IX regulations require a school district to dismiss a complaint immediately if the allegations, even if proven, are not sexual harassment. That’s what’s supposed to happen here, so that’s what our letter to the district urges it to do: Drop the charges, delete these kids’ records, and take action. change so this doesn’t happen again. It’s not too late for the district to do the right thing. It blew the issue away and harmed the children charged with taking care of it.

This episode doesn’t have to become a federal lawsuit, but if the school district followed suit and just punished these boys for “wrong talk,” it would.

Mr. Esenberg is president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Freedom, where Berg is deputy counsel.

Review and Outlook: The wake received a wake-up call as voters recalled three school board members for focusing on social justice issues in reopening classes. Image: Bloomberg News / Constanza Hevia H. for The Wall Street Journal Synthesis: Mark Kelly

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Appeared on May 24, 2022, print edition as ‘The pronoun police have arrived for high school students.’ The Progressive Pronoun Police Come for Middle Schoolers

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