KIEL, WI – The pronoun debate reached a new level this week when a Wisconsin school district made the decision to charge three of their middle school students with sexual harassment for not using a female classmate’s preferred pronouns, a move that some legal experts say is an affront to the First Amendment right to free speech.
The Kiel, Wisconsin school district – with a population of just 3,600 – has charged three eighth-graders with a violation of Title IX, a statute of the U.S. Education Department that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education.
The charges stem from an incident that took place in April where the three students in question allegedly refused to use a classmate’s “they/them” pronouns the student announced were preferred a month prior, according to Rosemary Rabidoux, whose 13 year-old son Braden is one of the accused.
“I received a phone call from the principal…forewarning me, letting me know that I was going to be receiving an email with sexual harassment allegations against my son,” she said. “I immediately went into shock. I’m thinking sexual harassment? That’s rape, that’s inappropriate touching, that’s incest. What has my son done?”
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However, when the principal told her what the charges were for, Rabidoux said she couldn’t believe her ears.
“The principal said he’s being allegedly charged with sexual harassment for not using proper pronouns,” she said. “I thought it wasn’t real! I thought this has got to be a gag, a joke…one has nothing to do with the other.”
Rabidoux explained the incident that took place in April between her son and the classmate whose pronouns he declined to use, saying that it was a female student who acted very aggressively towards Braden and his friends.
“She had been screaming at one of Braden’s friends to use proper pronouns, calling him profanity, and this friend is very soft-spoken, and kind of just sunk down into his chair,” Rabidoux said. “Braden finally came up, defending him, saying ‘He doesn’t have to use proper pronouns, it’s his constitutional right to not use, you can’t make him say things.’”
The three accused students are being defended by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, with deputy counsel Luke Berg claiming that the school district misusing Title IX to attempt to compel speech is potentially a First Amendment violation.
“Title IX sexual harassment typically covers things like rape, dating violence, quid pro quo sexual favors…really egregious stuff. There’s nothing even remotely close to that alleged in this case,” he said. “School administrations can’t force minor students to comply with their preferred mode of speaking. And they certainly shouldn’t be slapping eighth graders with Title IX investigation over what amounts to protected speech. This is a terrible precedent to set, with enormous ramifications.”
The Kiel school district issued a statement to the media – with some news outlets, such as Fox News, being highly critical of the charges against the students – saying that they prohibit “all forms of bullying and harassment,” especially against “protected classes.”
“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 it’s student programs and activities; this is consistent with school board policy. We do not comment on any student matters.”