Hanover schools’ parental notification policy enjoined by judge

Policy may have led school workers to violate the N.J.’s Law Against Discrimination, judge says

By: - October 2, 2023 1:57 pm

The judge's order comes as furor over transgender policies and parental notification have featured prominently in legislative campaigns this year. (Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office).

A Superior Court judge has enjoined a controversial Hanover Township school board parental notification policy, saying it could force school employees to act in violation of the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The order comes more than four months after Attorney General Matt Platkin filed a civil rights complaint against Hanover’s district over the policy, saying its requirement that parents be notified if their child begins a gender transition or expresses a gender that does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth violates New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

Hanover’s school board amended the policy after Platkin filed his complaint, but Judge Stuart Minkowitz found the revised policy is still likely discriminatory because it allows schools to consider a student’s protected characteristics when making notifications.

“Even though protected status may only be part of the consideration, the Board has, nevertheless, opened the door to differential treatment based on upon a students’ protected class, creating a condition where staff members and administrators may engage in activities violative of the LAD,” Minkowitz wrote in the Sept. 29 order.

He added that the presumption that characteristics protected by the Law Against Discrimination could adversely impact a student’s health, safety, or well-being “invites a violation” of that law.

The judge’s order comes as furor over transgender policies and parental notification have featured prominently in legislative campaigns this year, when all 120 of the state’s legislative seats are up for reelection.

Hanover is just one school district where Platkin’s office fought with local officials over parental notification policies. In June, it filed similar complaints against the Manalapan-Englishtown, Marlboro, and Middletown districts, and the judge overseeing those complaints in August issued temporary restraining orders barring the districts from implementing them.

Minkowitz’s injunction won’t strike the notification policies by itself. Those policies are now on hold until the conclusion of the civil rights probe Platkin lodged against the district in May. The injunction bars Hanover from enforcing its notification policy until that case is resolved.

Hanover Township Superintendent Michael Wasko and Matthew Giacobbe, an attorney for the district, did not immediately return requests for comment.

The district’s amended parental notification policy removed references to sexual orientation, gender identity, and other categories related and unrelated to gender, and it required staff to notify parents whenever a student exhibits behavior that could negatively impact their physical or mental health. Under the revised policy, notification could not be “based solely on a student’s actual and/or perceived protected characteristics.”

Attorney General Matt Platkin said his office wants school districts to respect “the need for parents to be informed about their children and the civil rights of LGBTQIA+ students.” (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

Minkowitz in his order declined to reinstate an older policy, known as Policy 5756, meant to prevent discrimination against transgender and other gender-nonconforming students that the board repealed at a Sept. 13 emergency meeting.

Attorneys for the state argued that repealing that policy — which provides guidance to avoid discrimination against transgender students but is not mandatory — would leave those students without any civil protections. The judge found the Law Against Discrimination protects students from discrimination, though he said in a footnote that districts ignoring the state’s guidance risk violations of that law.

“As the Superior Court notes, ‘the LAD remains the law of the land’ — and while Policy 5756 is not mandatory, following the LAD is,” Platkin said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that all New Jersey students enjoy the protections state law provides.”

Republicans have alleged that gender and sexual education policies advanced by the state Board of Education are meant to denude parents’ say over how their children are raised. They’ve been joined by some Democrats, including legislative leaders in both chambers who chided the state board in August, charging it cut parents and legislators out of the debate when it enacted new equity rules.

Platkin, for his part, insists the state is seeking only to ensure students are not discriminated against.

“As the Superior Court itself recognized, the State’s lawsuit ‘is not targeting parental rights.’ Our lawsuits have merely sought to reinstate the status quo that has been in place for years without controversy — a status quo that respects the need for parents to be informed about their children and the civil rights of LGBTQIA+ students,” he said.


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.