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Court sides with school that censored 4th-grader’s pro-transgender essay

Education doodles against teacher shouting at boy in classroom (Stock)
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A court ruled against a fourth-grade student’s bid to have a transgender equality essay included in a school publication because supporting LGBTQ people is “not age appropriate.”

“I don’t know if you know this but peoples view on Tran’s genders is an issue,” the young student wrote for the 100-word essay assignment on “society” for their school in Moore, South Carolina. “People think that men should not drees like a women, and saying mean things.”

Related: Teacher forbids student with lesbian moms from speaking in favor of same-sex marriage

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“People need to think before they speak because one word can hurt someone’s feelings.”

But that was too much for Anderson Mills Elementary School Principal Elizabeth Foster. The essays were meant to be part of a book that would be sent home to parents, but Foster rejected the student’s essay.

According to the complaint brought by the family, Foster “religiously defended her decision” to exclude the fourth grader’s essay with arguments like: “that the original paper would ‘make other parents upset,’ ‘would create an undesirable situation at the school,’ was ‘not acceptable’ and that it was ‘not age-appropriate to discuss transgenders, lesbians and drag queens outside of the home.'”

The parents sued the school, arguing that the student’s First Amendment rights had been violated, but U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanie Thacker in the Fourth Circuit rejected the claim.

Thacker cited the 1988 Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. In that case, a school principal removed articles on divorce and teen pregnancy from the school newspaper and the student journalists sued. They ultimately lost and the Court said that schools could censor students if the censorship is “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

“Schools need to be able to account for the emotional maturity level of the intended audience,” the school’s attorney argued in virtual oral arguments.

Thacker said that she was concerned about the “pedagogical efficacy of shielding fourth graders from topics like sexuality and gender identity” but that, ultimately, it was the school’s decision to make.

“Principal Foster’s initial refusal to include [the student’s] essay in the fourth grade class’s essay booklet was actuated at least in part by her concern that the essay’s topic was ‘not age appropriate’ for fourth graders,” Thacker wrote, saying that that is a “legitimate pedagogical concern,” giving the school the right to censor the essay.

The student’s grandfather is gay and is an LGBTQ activist.

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