December 2, 2005

Do schools violate the privacy of openly gay students when they inform the parents?

The NYT reports on what an ACLU lawyer called "the first court ruling we're aware of where a judge has recognized that a student has a right not to have her sexual orientation disclosed to her parents, even if she is out of the closet at school."
Christine Sun [the ACLLU lawyer who represents Charlene Nguon, said:] "It's really important, because, while Charlene's parents have been very supportive, coming out is a very serious decision that should not be taken away from anyone, and disclosure can cause a lot of harm to students who live in an unsupportive home."...

Conservatives criticized the judge's reasoning. "This court ruling is so unrealistic that it borders on ridiculous," said Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokeswoman for Focus on the Family, a socially conservative group based in Colorado. "In a disciplinary action by the school, you can't expect them to lie to the parents and not give details of what happened. It seems ironic to raise privacy as an issue in a public display of affection. She'd already outed herself."

Advocates for gay rights, however, welcomed the judge's decision to let the case proceed, but said it was too soon to celebrate.

"I wouldn't yet go out and tell a kid in Iowa to walk down the halls at school holding hands with his boyfriend," said Brian Chase, a lawyer with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "It isn't fair, but gay kids expressing affection are not treated the way straight kids are."

The lawsuit seeks to clear Ms. Nguon's record and create a districtwide policy and guidelines for the treatment of gay students.
Schools often tell parents things about their children that are news to the parents but no secret at all at the school. The news that one's child is gay is a unique item of information, however. For a gay person, telling a parent is a special moment in the relation between parent and child. The young person thinks about when to tell the each parent and how to put it. These are decisions that take into account everything that young person knows about the parents attitudes and moods. How it is done has intense short term and deep long term effects on the relationships a person has with each of his or her parents. For a school to preempt that profound interaction and dump the news on a parent to add some extra dimension to a discipline report betrays a contemptible lack of dedication to the interests of students.

This is not a legal opinion of mine. I don't know the law in this area enough to have a legal opinion. This is an ethical judgment.

IN THE COMMENTS: Several readers talk about their own experiences coming out to their parents. One reader finds the complaint in the lawsuit and discovers a blogging angle:
Paragraph 28: While Charlene was serving her one-week suspension in or about March 2005, Principal Wolf called her and her mother in for a meeting at the school. At the meeting, Principal Wolf threatened to expel Charlene for an offcampus “blog,” an online journal entry, wherein Charlene had criticized another student for being materialistic and criticized teachers for favoring that student. He also threatened that he could have Charlene arrested and her computer confiscated for the blog entry, but none of those things happened.
And there's a link to another version of the news story, one with better detail, revealing the problem to be not just the disclosure of information to the parents but also the discriminatory application of the school's rule against public displays of affection:
In his 13-page ruling issued Monday, [Judge] Selna wrote that the administrators failed to take "action to stop or remedy the alleged harassment and discrimination" and failed to enact an "adequate formal or informal policy to ensure that Santiago High is providing a learning environment free from discrimination" as required by the California Education Code.

While attorneys for the district argued that Nguon had no right to privacy regarding her sexual orientation because she had been openly demonstrative toward her girlfriend in public on the campus, Selna agreed with Nguon's attorneys that because an event is not wholly private, it does not mean that an individual has no interest in limiting disclosure or dissemination of the information.

"The court finds that (Nguon) has alleged a serious invasion of her privacy interest by Wolf when he disclosed her sexual orientation to her mother," Selna wrote.

"The court finds that plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged disparate treatment of (Nguon) on the basis of her sexual orientation," Selna wrote.

"Plaintiffs have alleged that (Nguon) was disciplined for expressive conduct that is not similarly punished when engaged in by heterosexual students," Selna wrote. "Hence the complaint alleges discriminatory treatment regarding a clearly established constitutional right, and Wolf is not entitled to qualified immunity."


Dave said...

I would hope parents are aware enough of their children to determine, independently, of the kid telling them, that their kid is gay.

I don't know, maybe I have an unusually refined gaydar, but I usually can tell a gay person from a straight person before they or someone else confirms my suspicions.

I'd hope that parents are that aware of their own kids.

Perhaps I'm being naive, though, as I don't have any kids of my own.

PatHMV said...

That's certainly a good point, Ann, but in answering the ethical question, I think you also need to answer the question of what the school should do. When they ask at the parent-principle conference, what their son is being punished for, what must the school official say?

If the school answers that he was making out in the hallway, then the next question will inevitably be "with whom?" Do they lie? Do they say, that's between you and your son, we're not telling you?

Or suppose the boy gets in a fight with some homophobe who starts taunting him. Is the school to actively lie to the parent about the cause of the fight leading to the kid's suspension (or trip to the hospital, for that matter)?

Finally, if the kid is engaging in PDAs with same-sex partners in school, it's an absolute given that rumors of the kid's orientation will spread through the school like wildfire. How would you feel as a parent if all the kids and teachers at a school knew something that big about your child, and nobody bothered to tell you? And somebody would probably let something slip in front of the parents eventually anyway. Wouldn't it be better for the school to tell the child that they'll have to inform his parents, but they'll give him the chance to do so first?

Ann Althouse said...

I think schools should develop a policy on how to handle this, not just haphazardly dump the information on a parent of one child one day when they are exasperated about that child's behavior for some reason. There are so many better ways to handle this, and I'm not going to try to articulate them all, but whatever the school does should show much more concern for the interests of the students we trust them with. I hope this lawsuit provides the incentive to schools to develop appropriate techniques. There is a larger problem too, which is that gay students have to contend with all sorts of hostility at school, which can cause them to act out and then get perceived as discipline problems for the school. Let schools deal with that too.

PWS said...

I believe that homosexuals in this country are often treated poorly and discriminated against by individuals and institutions.

However, as Patrick Martin indicated, I think the school is in a tough spot. It seems that there should be some content neutral policy that the school uses to determine what information it shares with the parent.

Parents have all different kinds of preferences and wishes for their kids. How does the school make the judgment? Any school administrators out there care to comment?

It seems to me a content neutral approach would be one where the school reports something that comes to the attention of the school in some official manner, such as punishment for an infraction. For example, if a kid is blairing his radio in a disruptive manner, it may be relevant what he has listening to (i.e., music the parents don't approve of).

(This idea works as long as the school treats gay and straight kids the same with respect to PDA, etc.)

Dustin said...

Neutral policy concerning what information we receive from the school?

I know Ann's a parent, I am as well, but what does that mean, "Neutral policy"? This entire ruling smacks as yet another layer of the Government having control over our children.

Not control as in tin-foil hat brainwashing, but in the "parents don't have a right into what their children are exposed to be teachers" at all. At least, according to the 9th Circuit.

We expect, and demand, that our teachers are honest about our childs behavior in every aspect, yet here claim to want to protect the privacy of the child? If the child was doing nothing all day but making out with his non-same-sex boyfriend/girlfriend, would they get in any less trouble? If so, then that discriminatory action needs to be looked at on its own, not lumped in with "that's why we shouldn't tell parents."

It seems instead of treating gay students EQUAL we are now creating a special class and a new label. Kids agonize for years about this choice, and often for no reason other than self-doubt. How about giving parents back some level of control over their kids and letting the schools take a step back. We're not all ogres who beat our homosexual children.

Joe Giles said...

For a public institution that now pleads a lack of parental involvement as one of the critical reasons for ongoing difficulties, to then create policies that will specifically prevent parental involvement seems just a tad hypocritical.

In addition, this type of approach would be another example of the "school knowing best" based upon the possibility that someone, somewhere will not respond properly.

Creating policies because of a fear of some psycho parent reduces the rights and effectiveness of all parents.

Paul is a Hermit said...

This is just another example of organizations interjecting themselves between a child and his/her parents. Wanting the state to continue taking on the role of care-givers and nurturers.
These things will never end as long as the organizations can find a judicial system compliant and sympathetic to diminishing parenthood. And the simple statement that some parents do not deserve to be parents, does not change that all parents and their choices and beliefs for their children are being eroded and turned over to the state.
They are, or were, our children and their upbringing is, or was, our business, not yours.
These intrusions by the state will never end, on any subject, as long as some people see the state as better able to raise our children.

P_J said...

I tend to agree with Ann. Information about sexual orientation is especially sensitive and not something the school should be sharing with parents. As a parent, I would want the school to tell me there's a problem, but I don't want to find out from the school that my child is homosexual. It's an intensely personal discussion that should be held in the context of family.

That information is the young lady's to share. But since she is clearly "out" at school, I think it's a stretch for her to expect that information not to get back to her parents at some point (this would be different for college students or adults).

I think the officials could indeed say that the student is being disciplined for inappropriate romantic behavior with another student and tell the parents they need to talk to the child about the nature of that relationship. If the child had been in a fight, same thing. Or as Patrick suggests, a school counselor could talk to the child and tell her that the parents will be informed.

reader_iam said...

This one is tough. Ethically and from the compassionate standpoint, I'm right with you, Ann.

But it is a bit hard to get past the practicalities that others have mentioned here--how you explain the discipline without mentioning the behavior, and so forth.

The point that the student essentially "outed herself" in a public fashion also holds some weight with me. And, viscerally, as a parent, it would bother me terribly if I were the last person to know something about my child when a whole school community is clued in.

And yet. And yet.

Personally, I think there should be stricter policies (and enforced ones) against PDA's within the school environment for all students. (I'd exclude stuff like hand-holding, though, of course!)

Even back in my day, there were some pretty hot-and-heavy displays that were distracting to the environment and even embarrassing. And on the few occasions that I've been in middle schools and high schools in more recent times, I've seen some activity that was pretty--well, the phrase "get a room" comes to mind (off-campus, please!).

And what's with the gratuitous reference to Iowa? I don't remember things being so darn progressive, either, when I lived Back East. And the setting for this particular story is California, after all.

Anonymous said...

Certainly the fact that the school is disclosing info about sexual orientation exagerrates the risk/threat factor in this dilemma.

But what are the laws/ethics of the school telling parents whether or not 2 heterosexual kids are holding hands/kissing in school? Why is that fundementally any different? Picture puritanical/tyrannical parents who don't want little Jane kissing any of the boys. But Jane carves out a space at school for a little relationship - - can the school inform on her to the parents about it?

Same thing extends to a lot of non-sexual recreational activity kids do at school that parents don't know about....and maybe don't have the right to force school admins to spy for them about.

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Icepick said...

I am completely against the idea that school districts should have a policy on this matter. Institute a policy and one removes thoughtful consideration from actions. "Well, I was only following policy."

Individual situations should involve individual assesments. There is no way that a school board or judicial decision would be correct for all situations, and possibly not even for most. Either one trusts the schools to act in the best interest of the student, or one doesn't. And if one doesn't have that trust, then no amount of policy will correct the situation.

Perhaps the greatest failing in this country at the moment is the insistance that we have a policy for everything....

PWS said...

TidalPoet was asking about my reference to a content-neutral policy.

It's probably not the greatest term, but I was trying to describe an approach whereby the school's policy would be driven by having a safe and stable school environment conducive to learning.

So for example, the school shouldn't have a policy that says if we find out a student is gay we will share with the parents. Nor should the policy be the school will NOT share.

The policy has to be driven by the disruptive event. So if a child's sexual activity or PDA is disruptive in the school (or violates school policy), then this is shared with the parents. The school official doesn't have to say "your kid is gay." The school official, per policy, shares the facts of what happened. "Your kid was being disruptive by making out with another student."

The parent has a right to know the details and the school can share because the kid made it a problem by being disruptive.

The triggering event has to be the student doing something that is not permitted in the school environment; the triggering event should not be the child's sexual orientation.

In this sense, there should not be a special rule for homosexuals. There are all kinds of legal behaviors that kids engage in high school that they don't want their parents to know about and that, until they come to the attention of school officials as a problem, the school doesn't take the time to ferret out and report to parents. A student's sexual orientation should be no different.

And yes, it is true that sexual orientaiton is intensely personal, but other topics could be just as explosive for a family. For example, consider a student from a born-again Christian family found to be writing and distributing athiest material at school. The school should not report to the family based on the content of the activity, but only if the activity was disruptive to the school environment in some fashion.

Anonymous said...

The Blind Men and the Elephant.... Who knows at this point why the judge really ruled the way she did? Not me. Not Ann. The NYTimes highlights the problem with informing the parents of the kid's sexuality. The local NBC affiliate downplays that and says the case was one of gay discrimination by the school.

Yet lawyers will pontificate on it, and other cases will misconstrue it, and later on "originalists" will try to pull the tea leaves out of the trash and try to reconstruct what the tea bag looked like.

Lawyers worship a pretty stupid process if you ask me.

(2 days, and near as I can tell, no mention from Ann about Alito's memo....)

Ross said...

As an ethical matter, I agree with our fair-minded host, as a legal matter, this is ridiculous. Her lawyer said:

"She had a right to tell her family on her own terms, especially when it's such a sensitive matter in a lot of families."

She doesn't have a right to defy reality, and if she's smooching her girlfriend in public places, she's out.

Ann Althouse said...

Quxxo: It is counterproductive to push me to answer a question like that. You can assume I haven't read the relevant stories. Starting a count makes me less likely to read them.

Ann Althouse said...

Ross and others: I see the point about school rules about displaying behavior. These should be enforced equally, on all students. When informing the parents of the violation of this rule, there is no need to spice up the report by telling parents that their child is gay.

Is part of this story that the rules about displaying affection are enforced differently when the two students are the same sex? I didn't see that in the Times article.

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JBlog said...

Let me see if I've got this straight (no pun intended).

My 16-year-old daughter can't legally get her ears pierced without my permission.

But schools are obligated to hide information about her sexual orientation from me even if it is germane to a disciplinary action?

Yeah, that makes sense. You know, you just can't make this stuff up.

leeontheroad said...

There's no excuse for the school being clumsy here, especially in a disciplinary matter.

I have serious qualms about keeping information from parents, even in higher education, when the student is legally an adult. My solution is to work with the student to figure out a strategy for being either or both open with parents and engaging in behavioral patterns that aren't likely to attract parental notice.

As is so often said, bad cases make bad law.

P_J said...

Ross: Best summary yet.

"My mom picked me up from school and her eyes were all watery," she said. "I just went to my room and cried. We didn't talk about it for about a week."

Well, I'm sorry, dear, but after a year of run-ins with the principal over your public behavior, what did you expect?

In general, kids should expect that discussions about sexual orientation are the student's choice. In this case, though, the young woman was publicly out and defiant of attempts to rein in disruptive behavior. A reasonable person would see this isn't a private matter. If you want your sexual orientation (or activity) private, then stop the PDA.

Of course the rules should be equally applied. The problem isn't her being gay, but her being disruptive and then defiant.

And I still think the school could explain the reasons for the discipline as disruptive romantic behavior and make the kid tell the parents. If she refuses, then let the parents know.

amba said...

I agree with Ann and Pastor Jeff that coming out to one's parents is a delicate ritual that should be left between the parent and the kid.

However, PDAs of any orientation (PDAs more overtly sexual than affectionate, that is) are inappropriate in the school building, I would think. Ban them across the board, as reader_iam says. If the rule is broken, tell the parents the behavior was inappropriate PDAs and leave the rest up to the family.

Steve said...

Let's not kid ourselves here. There is about a 1% chance the school was enforcing this policy equally strictly with respect to boy-girl couples.

P_J said...

The more I read the article, the angrier I'm getting at the ACLU and Lambda. This isn't about gay rights! The school was not on a witch hunt, but apparently spent a year trying to get this person to stop making out in the hallways.

If the school would have done the same thing regardless of the student's sexual orientation, where's the discrimination? And if she's doing it in public, where's the privacy violation? If the ACLU and Lambda are defending anything here, it's stupid teenagers' rights.

P_J said...


Didn't see your post until after my last. That's a fair point - if true. But the suit isn't alleging viewpoint discrimination, just privacy violation - which makes it uniquely a gay issue, how? What does this have to do with the need for a district-wide policy on the treatment of gay students? Unless she was singled out because she was gay - which no one claims - this is political posturing and crass opportunism.

stephanie said...

"Unless she was singled out because she was gay - which no one claims - this is political posturing and crass opportunism."
The very fact that it's a court case makes it political posturing, IMO. It's lazy. You don't like the school policy, work within the local district to SOLVE THE LOCAL PROBLEM. Don't try and insist in a "one size fits all" ruling cause it's simpler.
I do think that the policy should be to just say "your child was engaged in disruptive PDAs with another student, bla bla bla. There's no reason, in my opinion, for the to divulge the name or the sex of the other participant- that's not relevant to the discipline, UNLESS they consider that that is what made the behavior unacceptable.

Joan said...

I don't see how the girl could have any expectation of privacy if she was making out in the hallways. Suppose her parents had dropped by the school one day for some reason, and seen her -- what then? I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that this behavior was going on for a year before it came to this. One would think that a warning the first time it happened would be followed up by disciplinary action the next time, including parental notification of inappropriate PDAs.

I agree that coming out to your parents is a very sensitive issue, but I have also noted how increasingly fluid sexuality is among teens, especially teenage girls. Homosexuality has been mainstreamed to the point where I wonder how much of a problem homophobia really is among kids today. (Parents, of course, are a different story.) It seems that among the girls, anyway, it's cool to be lesbian. But I think many kids don't self-identify as homosexual; they're omnisexual, interested in anyone that shows an interest in them...

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

Someone said:
There are so many better ways to handle this, and I'm not going to try to articulate them all...

I am interested in hearing ONE better way to handle the problem to the satisfaction of parents.

There is literally no parent on earth who will hear that their child is being punished and not ask for details and identities, if only to determine that their little angel is not being unduly punished and singled out.

oldgranny said...

If the issue is that two students were behaving inappropriately in school and in so doing so violated stated rules of behavior, then parents should have been told only that and the appropriate disciplinary procedures should have been taken. There was no need to mention the name or sex of the other offending student. Let the students themselves supply the details to their parents.

It goes without saying that schools shouldn't create a we-they atmosphere pitting students against their families and whatever school children might think about their sexuality, it's not the school's business, nor should teachers and counselors advise them about it. Neither should school personal take it upon themselves to judge what is a supportive or non-supportive family. If they suspect abuse, they are obligated to call child protective services, otherwise, they are wise to mind their own business.

Schools should enforce the discipline necessary to provide a calm atmosphere where learning can take place and then try to get some of it, i.e., learning to take place. Things like English grammar and logarithms aren't as exciting as prurient gossip, but learning about them will be a lot more useful when they grow up.

The debate about the rights of homosexuals isn't a fit topic for school children who can only parrot what their teachers and ACLU lawyers tell them. Let that debate take place among reasonable and hopefully well-informed adults who bring with them a knowledge of the world, not the fevers of teenagers.

Please don't read any homophobia into the preceding paragraphs because none is intended. My concern here isn't gay rights, but school childrens' rights not to be used as pawns by powerful leftwing lobbies like gay rights groups, the teachers unions and the ACLU among others.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

Joan you are right in that there is little stigma attached to females being bisexual in school today, although that sadly depends on how attractive you are and whether you conform to standard appearances of female beauty.

The guys get off on it, and the women know that. It actually boosts their popularity in the male population. But again, depends on whether you look lipstick or not.

sonicfrog said...

As a gay man (oops, I just outed myself, I should sue), I can tell you personally how difficult it is to tell your parents that you're gay, "not normal". Even though I knew they would not reject me as some of my gay friend's parents had, the fear of rejection was still very, very strong. Plus once this info gets out, it changes how your parents, friends think about you. It represents a finality; you can never go back to the way things were. And how do you do it? What's the best time? "Hey, Mom. Could you pass the potato's to your gay son? No. Not my little brother! Didn't I mention that I'm gay?". I didn't tell my parents until I was 27. I did so for a couple of reasons.

1). Keeping this from my parents was preventing me from entering into any potential long term relationship out of fear that my parents / family would find out my secret.

2). Rob, man who I was in love with and was one of the great positive influence of my hidden gay life was bashed to death in Feb of that year (I wrote one of my best song about him and think about him to this day). His parents found out he was gay at the funeral. I was not going to have my parents find out that way if something happened to me.

My high school years were hell. Out of fear of shame and social ostracizing, I couldn't, wouldn't acknowledged to myself or others the emotions and feelings I felt. I was truly alone in my world.

The student involved here obviously does not harbor the same fears I did. I am frankly a bit envious that she is growing up in a time where being gay is not that big a deal. Even though she is out in her school environment, she should still be able to tell her parents when she is ready.

All this being said, I have two questions:

1). Were straight students who made out in school disciplined in the same fashion? It seems that if this gay couple was treated differently than straights regarding policy enforcement, then you would think the crux of the suit would be based on discrimination.

2). How did the school district transfer this student to another school without revealing to the parent exactly why this was done? I know I don't have much info to base this on, but it seems that the school did try to keep the students lesbian orientation under wraps for a while.

After the shock and disappointment wore off (probably no grand-kids from me, you know, that kind of thing), my life and my relationship with my parents are much better without the "big little secret" keeping me from sharing my life completely with them.

PS. My Mom found out a week earlier. My last semester in college I took a Human Sexuality class (as opposed to a "Squirrel Sexuality" class). I wrote some semi graphic stuff about my gay life. That was the first time I had ever written about that. Mom, having odd notions of privacy, went through my school work and read some of my papers. Yes. Those papers. I should have sued the school for outing me to my Mom.

P_J said...

Sonicfrog - I'm so sorry to hear about Rob. That must have been a teribly painful loss.

Quxxo - thanks for the link to the NBC story. It certainly gives a different picture and more details.

Steve - After reading the NBC story Quxxo linked to, I see the plaintiffs are alleging discrimination. If true, that's obviously wrong and has to be remedied. It's interesting that the NYT article didn't mention discrimination but only the privacy issue.

reader_iam said...


Homosexuality has been mainstreamed to the point where I wonder how much of a problem homophobia really is among kids today.

That was my first thought, too--until I went a did a couple of hours research about the situation in my own state (Iowa).

What an eye-opener. A recent survey and other sources indicate that students of this generation aren't necessarily much more enlightened than those preceding them.

This may be one of those times when the MSM presentation of the climate is focusing more on those kids who don't have a problem with gayness or even "think it's cool." Which would lead to the perception I held just a few hours ago, but that I would now have to at least question.

Just a thought ...

Wade Garrett said...

Is the girl described in the article Asian? I don't know many evangelical Christians who're gay, but based on what my gay Korean and Chinese friends have told me, the Korean and Chinese communities (especially parents born in the old country) these cultures are far less accepting of gay people than mainstream American culture. If that's true, and if this girl is Asian, then the damage to the mother-daughter relationship that this school's actions caused might be greater even than what we would otherwise expect.

Here is what I am afraid of: the schools creating a policy against public displays of affections, not enforcing it generally, and then selectively using it to punish gay students who the school has some other, unrelated, problem with. Its the Al Capone approach -- a lot of people don't pay their taxes, and the government looks the other way, but they can send the IRS after people like Al Capone (and in recent years, Paul Krugman) who it wants to get for some other, non-tax related reason.

Don Surber said...

Openly Gay Student -- Privacy Lawsuit.
Openly Gay Student -- Privacy Lawsuit.
Openly Gay Student -- Privacy Lawsuit.
You have to help me out here. I'm just a dumb hillbilly in Poca, West Virginia, but I thought when you city people say "Openly Gay Student" you meant someone who already told her momma she was a carpet muncher

Unknown said...

I didn't come out to my parents until I was 34 years old, and they were completely shocked.

Since I had dated guys previously and gone out in "public", well then I guess it would be a-ok for anyone who saw me out in public with another man to then proceed and tell my parents that I was gay, before I got a chance to tell them myself, right?

Well - I guess you could say it would be legal. But you could also say its downright rude and inconsiderate. And yes - an invasion of one's privacy. It's my time and place to tell my parents when I'm gay and nobody elses.

Teenagers have an expectation of privacy. Can you imagine if schools started reporting back to parents who their children were dating? Many kids are dating people whom their parents have no idea about. Can you imagine if a student wrote something personal for a high-school essay, and the teacher then relayed that back to the parent????

This school was not doing anything to heterosexuals who were making out in the corridors. Just the gay kids. And that's discriminatory.

Straight people have absolutely no idea what it is like to tell a parent that you are gay (no matter how many of your friends know), let alone having your parents find out before you get a chance to tell them. Do you realize how many gay kids are kicked out of their house and disowned when the parents find out they are gay? My friend was kicked out as a senior in high school, when his aunt discovered a letter he wrote to another boy - and promptly told is parents. Or sent away to concentration camps (oops - I mean "Love Won Out" brainwashing camps)?

Get a clue people. Yes - it would be great if we live in a land where there is equality for gay people and parents didn't care if their child was gay or straight. But we're nowhere near that time right now.

This was an A student whose grades have plummeted. Please explain to me again how the school did the right thing????

Anonymous said...

For those interested in reviewing the legal aspects of the case, the complaint can be found here.

Interestingly, the ACLU has a picture of the plaintiff on their website, along with various press releases and statements.

I can't find a link to the court's decision (I think in response to a motion to dismiss) on the court's website.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I typed the incorrect URL for the ACLU website. The correct link is here.

Stiles said...

I'll read the tentative ruling at$FILE/05-868-C.N.-Tentative-DISMISS.pdf before giving too much of the school administrator's perspective.

For now, I'll just offer up the bromide that you should have clear expectations regarding school climate (dress, PDA, manner of language, etc...) in either policy or the student code of conduct, and that staff and administration must apply those expectations evenhandedly.

It will be interesting so see if the opinion indicates that is what happened.

Wade Garrett said...

Don Surber - hey, I hear that a high school in Orange County needs a new principal. Perhaps you should apply for the job?

PWS said...

Check out the Blog aspect to the Lesbian discrimination suit. This is from the complaint:

Paragraph 28: While Charlene was serving her one-week suspension in or about March 2005, Principal Wolf called her and her mother in for a meeting at the school. At the meeting, Principal Wolf threatened to expel Charlene for an offcampus “blog,” an online journal entry, wherein Charlene had criticized another student for being materialistic and criticized teachers for favoring that student. He also threatened that he could have Charlene arrested and her computer confiscated for the blog entry, but none of those things happened.

The complaint alleges that school officials, particularly the principal, were openly discriminatory toward the 17-year old. If the allegations in the complaint are true, this is not a marginal case; the school disciplined the same-sex PDA while heteros were doing the same thing PLUS the complaint alleges the school has no PDA policy!

XWL said...

This seems very complicated. First I do find the concept that Charlene Nguon was closeted with her parents but 'out' at school contradictory but not unusual.

However, because of this contradiction she had to have been aware that reports of her orientation could filter back to her family.

Yet, the actions of the school as reported do sound selective and designed to cause friction and embarrassment for the student.

Also, because of the ethnic and possibly the religious angle (given that this happened in Orange County Ms. Nguon is most likely Vietnamese and Christian) the school should have been responsible enough to exercise discretion.

The school's lack of discretion though, in my opinion, wasn't a violation of her privacy or civil rights given that it was Ms. Nguon's lack of discretion by her own choice that placed her in this position in the first place (needless to say, yes it sucks that the same activity in a mixed gender couple doesn't raise an eyebrow but with a same gender couple causes disruption, but that's life)

So the school could claim that PDA's between a same sex couple do differ from the same kind of PDA's of opposite gender couples due to it being more disruptive and noticeable. (Just as a group of people of the same ethnicity might use words with each other that if someone outside their group used them those same words would become fighting words, it's not the words it's the context)

If the school had actively tried to discover her sexuality and then outed her that would be one thing, but if she was 'out' at school and then they repeated that information that's another. The school probably was acting vindictively and unethically, but not illegally, and the idea that children have an absolute right of privacy against parental knowledge of their orientation I think won't survive once this case is reviewed beyond the 9th Circuit.

Just cause the school did the wrong thing for the wrong reasons doesn't mean they were violating any 'rights' as defined in the constitution.

Sometimes life sucks.

37383938393839383938383 said...
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37383938393839383938383 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
37383938393839383938383 said...

Is this a case of a gay kid unfairly targeted by the school, or a disruptive, rebellious little brat who happens to be gay?

If the disruptive, rebellious, little brat is engaging in her anarchist bomb-throwing by use of gay PDA when similarly expressive het-PDA would be inappropriate, by blogging nasty comments about profs and students, etc., then how could the principal communicate exactly how the brat was being bratty without telling the mom the brat was gay?

In that case, it's the brat's fault -- not because she was "out," but because she was a brat. You don't have a right to privacy with regard to your disciplinary problems -- the school has to tell your parents what you did that was wrong.

It seems like this lawsuit only proves what a bratty brat this kids is, regardless of her sexual orientation, which, really, everyone would have been happy had she kept to herself. (Which is not saying she had to be in the closet; just, you know, not a brat about it.)

4:35 PM, December

37383938393839383938383 said...

For now, I'll just offer up the bromide that you should have clear expectations regarding school climate (dress, PDA, manner of language, etc...) in either policy or the student code of conduct, and that staff and administration must apply those expectations evenhandedly.

Clear? Not really. Schools use broad standards that principals can apply within their discretion, because if they rely on teh code method -- delineate specific offenses, kids will come up with new ways of doing things to subvert the code.

sonicfrog said...

PS. My year of self acceptance was 1993.

37383938393839383938383 said...

I do think that the policy should be to just say "your child was engaged in disruptive PDAs with another student, bla bla bla. There's no reason, in my opinion, for the to divulge the name or the sex of the other participant- that's not relevant to the discipline, UNLESS they consider that that is what made the behavior unacceptable.

This is wrong. The school could very easily say, "X was engaging in inappropriate PDA." Then the parents say, that doesn't sound like Jane, it must be the other child! We know all her friends are good kids; who is this kid who is influencing her, is it a bad kid? Is it a kid with bad grades? A record? A troublemaker? The principal could easily say, "It was John Smith. He was suspended last year for assaulting a teacher. Talk to your kid." or "It was Julie Smith. She's your daughter's girlfriend. Talk to your kid." Giving the parents context is not discriminatory -- esp. because any public record made of the disciplinary action would be accessible by the parents anyway, as they're the child's guardian. If my kid is involved with a girl that you know sells heroin on school property and you fail to tell me when discussing my daughter's demerit for inappropriate PDA and my daughter later dies of heroin overdose I will be on The O'Reilly Factor the next day weepily calling for your immediate firing.

37383938393839383938383 said...

Do you realize how many gay kids are kicked out of their house and disowned when the parents find out they are gay? My friend was kicked out as a senior in high school, when his aunt discovered a letter he wrote to another boy - and promptly told is [sic] parents.

Isn't that really a cautionary tale for gay people? I mean, if your parents think gay stuff is bad, you might want to cool it on the gay stuff IN THE MIDDLE OF A HALLWAY IN A PUBLIC SCHOOL BUILDING AFTER SCHOOL OFFICIALS HAVE TOLD YOU THAT YOUR BEHAVIOR IS DISRUPTIVE! Stop trying to explain away the fact that this girl plainly has no goddamned common sense. That has nothing to do with her being gay, she's just stupid. There were plenty of out gay people at my high school and none of them got in trouble and all the teachers knew they were gay and they met in the gay association and had a gay teacher sponsor for the gay association and the adminstration did not tell their parents because they were good students and blah blah blah. But if one of them had started slurpin' it up in the halls, their parents would have gotten a call, just like the parents of the het-girl who was caught slobbin' a knob in the stairwell.

Unknown said...

Oh right - kissing your girlfriend and selling heroin are the same thing.

Who knew?

The facts are clear. Kiss someone of the opposite sex and nobody cares. Kiss someone of the same sex - and suddenly you're kicked out of school.

That's discriminatory and it's a violation of California law.

This kid was not a bratty brat. She was an A student who just happened to be gay.

37383938393839383938383 said...

1. A-students can be brats! (And heroin dealers)
2. You're missing the point about the heroin. Parents have a right to know who the other kid is in the disciplinary action. The other kid could be a bad kid, or a kid outside of the child's circle of friends of which the parents are aware. Parents have a right to set rules for their children, e.g., "We don't want you hanging around with that crowd!" or "You can't bring Janie over here." Disclosing the name of the other kid invariably in some cases will alert the parent to the sex of the other child. I never said homosexuality was equivalent to drug addiction, but be irrational all you want. Why don't you sue me? Better yet, the school district!

37383938393839383938383 said...

The facts are clear. Kiss someone of the opposite sex and nobody cares. Kiss someone of the same sex - and suddenly you're kicked out of school.

Uh, this sounds like homophobia. As in, a phobia that homosexuals have. I sincerely doubt that she was kicked out simply because she was gay -- if you look at the allegations, she was engaging in all sorts of bratty behavior, and inappropriate sexual activity was just one of those ways of acting out. She also maintained a blog where she attacked students personally.

P_J said...

Is Charlene Nguon wearing the same shoes as Jeff Spicoli? Don't tell me those are coming back, too.

37383938393839383938383 said...

Oh, and here is Charlene's spin on the facts from her complaint:

At the office, Principal Wolf disciplined
Charlene and her girlfriend by assigning them to Saturday school. Principal Wolf
also gave Saturday school to the heterosexual couple that Charlene and her
girlfriend had been talking with. After the incident, the heterosexual couple and
the other student remarked that they thought it was strange that they had received
the discipline for their behavior, since they had never heard of a school rule
against public displays of affection and the heterosexual couple regularly and
openly engaged in affectionate behavior without reproach. The couple and the
friend concluded that the real reason behind the discipline was because the
Principal was targeting Charlene and her girlfriend, and the heterosexual couple
had been talking with them.

In other words, when the rule was applied, it was applied to hets and gays alike.

sonicfrog said...

The problem here CritOb, is that the rules were not applied equally between "hets" and "gays". If it can be demonstrated that there were other straight couples that recieved the same type of disciplinary action, then this case isn't going to go any farther than the 9th Circuit C.O.A. If it can be shown that the plaintiffs drew a higher level of response from the principle and staff than others participating in the same activity, then Mrs. Nguon is on solid footing. What if the circumstances were the same, except the couple in question is straight but the only black couple in the school. If they were repeatedly singled out more than the white couples who demonstrated the same behavior, then there would also be ground for litigation.

Note all the If's. I'm just dancing with possibilities and conjecture here.

I'm still not sure if the "right to privacy" angle makes a strong case in this case.

Ed said...

I mean, if your parents think gay stuff is bad, you might want to cool it on the gay stuff IN THE MIDDLE OF A HALLWAY IN A PUBLIC SCHOOL BUILDING AFTER SCHOOL OFFICIALS HAVE TOLD YOU THAT YOUR BEHAVIOR IS DISRUPTIVE! Stop trying to explain away the fact that this girl plainly has no goddamned common sense.

Exactly, CritOb. It's just another illustration that half the population has an IQ of less than 100.

Anonymous said...

Dumbass: Principal punishes female student for kissing another girl on campus. Traces of mad cow disease found in faculty lounge

chuck b. said...

I read the comments and not the story, and I gotta say I love it!

Lesbian punk dope dealer kicked out of school for kissing girls! Mom had no idea! John Waters would love this story--it's so...Dawn Davenport.

"I got trouble--female trouble!"

When I was a gay kid, I was naive enough to think my sexuality was not my parents' business. I'd fill them in in due time.

When my dad's girlfriend read my mail and outed me (at nineteen, home from college), my dad chased me out of the house because he assumed I had secretly exposed everyone to AIDS! (No, I don't have AIDS). This was 1989 and my father was a public high school art teacher. Really fucking unbelievable if you want my uncensored opinion.

I grabbed my wallet and keys and hit the road. I was so shocked in the moment, I neglected to put on shoes. My friends still joke about it today--"Always keep a pair of shoes in your trunk--you never know when you might need them!"

I didn't talk to my dad for two or three years after that, despite his teary, apologetic pleadings--I was furious and he could go fuck himself as far as I was concerned).

I was lucky to be a somewhat self-possessed young man with a good, extra-familial social network.

This kind of personal experience STRONGLY colors my judgment about parental notification laws re: abortion, btw. Some parents simply cannot be trusted.

Wade Garrett said...

Pastor Jeff -- that was HANDS DOWN the best Fast Times reference I've ever seen. Congrats!

Unknown said...

Good story Chuck B. Too bad Critical Observer thinks you were a brat for expecting your mail to be private . . .

AST said...

I guess this all really depends on whether homosexuality is really an inborn trait or a side trip made by a lot of people and animals on the way to sexual maturity.

We seem to have adopted the former supposition as worthy of judicial notice, without anything but annectdotal evidence. Gays generally believe that they were born this way, but we suppress any research and/or evidence about it being other than permanent.

As a parent, I feel I have a right to know what kind of personal problems my child may have but is afraid or ashamed to discuss with me.

I can also see Ann's point of view about privacy.

However, since I don't believe that privacy rises to the level of a general constitutional right, I tend to think this is and should be a family matter and that the school should refer it to the parents, instead of inserting itself. If I were a judge, I'd be even more reluctant to do so. I think that parents' rights are at least as valid as privacy.

The judgment of teenagers is notoriously immature. That used to be a matter of common sense before civil liberties activists got ahold of it. Do we really think that principals and judges are more entitled to empower kids than parents are? Where do I take my kid to let the state raise him?

Ross said...

The fuller story gives me a few thoughts:

1.) This is a pretty obvious case of discrimination. If that's illegal, they have a nice case.

2.) If this had been going on for a year, and there had been repeated disciplinary issues, the "privacy" case is even weaker.

3.) This is sticky, but 1.) might not be so clear. Two women kissing each other in the hallway would have, in my high school in Farmington, N.M., created an enormous stir. The idealist in my says that the principal ought to discipline the bigots who are making an issue of it, but the realist says that might well be half the kids in school.

At bottom, it's a very difficult issue for the school administrators -- a no-win situation, really -- which makes it even more frustrating that the principal should be sued for his troubles. After all, how hard is it to imagine the Christian parents suing the school for not giving the info about who the girl was publicly displaying affection with. Nicht wahr?

P_J said...


Thanks! I swear that was the first thought on seeing that photo of her. "Dude. Listen to this! (SFX: pounds shoe on head). That was my skull! I am so wasted!"

Beth said...

I don't know where anyone can get the idea that this girl is a brat, a troublemaker, or a dope dealer. She's an A student, National Merit finalist, and had no prior disciplinary record. This principal isn't some poor guy at his wits' ends after a year chasing some slobbering sex machine out of dark hallways. If she was holding hands, kissing and hugging her girlfriend, she wasn't doing anything that Het students don't do every day, all over the world. This principal was on a mission, and this student defied him. Good for her! Defiance of tyranny is something Americans should cherish. Don't tread on me.

As for coming out, it's a process. There's no real contradiction between being "out" in some situations and not in others. I didn't come out to my parents until my twenties, but I was happily and safely out at school. I knew friends who were thrown out of their homes, and others who were beaten by their parents. Teenage male hustlers on the streets don't just appear from nowhere, you know. Chuck_b is right; not all parents can be trusted, so it's no one's business to out a kid to their parents. You could be throwing them to the wolves.

Beth said...

If you need a school authority to tell you your kid is gay, it's because your kid is afraid to tell you herself.

Joe Giles said...

One, I can't believe how people are so willing to put the burden on the school (as if they don't have enough to do), and how so quickly the case of someone making out during school morphs into a civil rights issue.

Charges of discrimination imply that kids have a right to make out in a public school. Sheesh. Couldn't we make learning any more difficult?

Two, we need more school policies on the matter? Is there no discretion left in public education, or does everything have to be a minsterial act, approved by board mtg?

Third, be careful of demonizing faceless parents and creating standards whereby their rights are diminished, lest you be the next parent who is not entitled to know what their child is doing.

gt said...

Invasion of privacy claims are hard to prevail on at trial, especially with facts like these. But when you have an otherwise valid case, which she did, it's not unusual to throw in an invasion of privacy claim, and this one might have had just enough to survive the motion to dismiss. So now it'll settle.
I'm queer, a lawyer, 45, out, not out to my mother, because that's not the sort of thing we talk about. I spent junior year kissing my lesbian girlfriend, but discreetly. (I'm male.)
I think this case is ok, if unusual. I have a few concerns about where the ACLU is headed with its trend to actively look for gay cases. When it focuses, as here, on state action and civil liberties of gay people, that's great. It's both important for social justice, and a savvy marketing outreach to a good demographic.
My worry is that, as the gay rights movement moves past gay marriage and starts to focus on laws to ban private discrimination,the ACLU will get very involved in that struggle and risk some of the social capital it's built up as a defender against unjust state action. But I could be wrong about that; I'm paranoid and have had too much coffee today. I value the ACLU's role as a private attorney general, litigating constitutional issues, because the government isn't keeping it own house in order. Attorneys general like Gonzales'Ashcroft spend their resources attacking the constitution instead of defending it.

Darren said...

As a parent *and* a teacher, I find many of the comments on this post amazing. Do you have such contempt for parents that nothing should be told to them?

Let me see if I get this right:

1. Can't tell the parents the reason their daughter was suspended (kissing another girl at school, creating a disturbance). BTW, this points out why *all* PDA needs to addressed at schools, so there's no discrimination lawsuits.

2. Here in California, we can't tell the parents if a child chooses to leave school to go get an abortion.

3. As a teacher, I can't give a 17-yr-old with a headache an aspirin. They might get Reyes Syndrome and die.

So we trust teenagers to make medical decisions for themselves, but we don't trust them to drink alcohol. We must keep secrets from their parents, but expect the parents to be responsible for them and their actions. And we help the children keep secrets from their parents. Wow!

I don't buy the line "if you parents don't know you're gay, it's because the kid's too afraid to tell you because you're a horrible parent." If it were easy for everyone, coming out wouldn't be such a big deal. Telling parents that you might not give them grandchildren, and they might not get to see you in that fantasy wedding all parents dream about for their kids, *is* a shock. Doesn't mean the parents don't love their kids, it means that they're shocked that their kid is in that 1.5%-6% minority of the population that's gay.

Cut parents some slack. And the law shouldn't make parents responsible for every action of their minor children when it in fact encourages other adults (doctors and school officials) to keep secrets from those parents.

chuck b. said...

Can someone please explain to me how taking an aspirin is like making an abortion decision?

Beth said...


I'd appreciate in the future if, when you quote me, you keep the quotation marks around my actual words, and leave off with the additional clauses of your own: if you parents don't know you're gay, it's because the kid's too afraid to tell you because you're a horrible parent." The period and quotation marks should end at "afraid to tell you."

You and I agree on some things; I don't think the parents of high school students are solely, or even mostly, responsible for their acts. Certainly, parents can't decide their children's sexual orientation, though they keep trying.

What you see as contempt for parents, though, is no such thing. It's being realistic, from experience and observation. I'm not speculating on how dangerous it can be for students to be outed to their parents. Leave that up to gay people to decide for themselves. That there are parents who react with violence, or by abandoning their children, or by putting them into reprogramming "counseling" is not debatable. These are facts. You cannot know that all that will follow an outing is some tears and disappointments about grandchildren (by the way, if you take a look around, you'll see actual gay people with actual children, so that's a bogus worry. You'll also seea actual straight people who decide NOT to have children) and being in a minority.

I'll trade your so-called contempt for parents for the safety of gay teens any day. Parents don't own their children.

chuck b. said...

Elizabeth said, "I'll trade your so-called contempt for parents for the safety of gay teens any day. Parents don't own their children."

Indeed. Parents do, however, own their disappointments. Some need to do a better job with that.

Anonymous said...

I do not think teachers SHOULD tell parent's if a student is gay, but I believe that they have the RIGHT to. Then again, I suppose it could work the other way,

"I'm sorry, Mrs Smith, there's no easy way to say this, but your son is straight." Mrs Smith falls on the floor is a pool of tears, pulls a hanky out of her pocket and wipes her face. The teacher does everything to comfort her, but it doesn't work. He never told her he was straight. How could he keep that from her?

Sorry about that.

With the whole abortion thing, I think abortion is wrong to start with, but it should be the moral decision of the teacher to decide whether or not to tell the parents.

We have made a society that is so clinical and separated. Teachers are no longer allowed to comfort student, because that could be sexual harrasment. We can't give them an asprin to get rid of their pain, because if something goes wrong, the school could get sued. Teaching has more or less been forced down to a purely mechanical task. Teachers are no long people, they are functional items who follow every rule and regulation to protect the school from harm.

Teachers should have a bit of heart, not only for the parents, but for the students as well. Parent teacher interviews should not be a gossip club about the life of your student/child. But teacher should have the RIGHT to make a moral judgement about what to say to the parent and what to do/say to the student.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.