HILLIARD, Ohio (WCMH) — Several central Ohio parents are suing Hilliard City Schools, alleging teachers are having “intimate sexual conversations” with students and calling for the removal of badges supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Eight Hilliard parents say school officials are allowing “activist teachers” to facilitate conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity with children as young as 6 years old without parental consent, according to the filing in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Ohio. The complaint said teachers are taking specific actions to hide these conversations, calling the situation “a recipe for indoctrination and child abuse.”

However, Hilliard City Schools said the lawsuit is “filled with misstatements of fact and mischaracterizations,” and is committed to a “transparent and vigorous defense.”

“Making broad-brush accusations such as those in this lawsuit detract from the district’s mission and the educational efforts of our dedicated staff and teachers,” said Hilliard Superintendent David Stewart in a statement.

A pronoun questionnaire

The filing raises the issue of surveys allegedly given to students, asking which pronouns they prefer at school and which pronouns students prefer the teacher use when speaking to parents. Practices like the questionnaire could violate the parents’ rights to “control the upbringing of their children,” the complaint states.

“If a child is experiencing mental distress, no matter what the reason, the schools have to tell the parents what’s going on,” said Lisa Chaffee, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and a former candidate for Hilliard’s board of education. “What they’re doing is, if gender identity issues are involved, they’re absolutely refusing to tell the parents.”

However, school officials said the survey was not a practice of the district. Stewart said he made clear to administrators that the district does not support surveying students on this topic or in this context.

Amanda Erickson, Director of Education and Outreach at Kaleidoscope Youth Center, did not comment on the lawsuit, but said many LGBTQ+ young people look for support from other authority figures when their home is not supportive. Studies show LGBTQ+ youth have difficulty finding acceptance at home, with only 37% of LGBTQ+ youth reporting their home as affirming, according to The Trevor Project.

“It can be really difficult for a young person to come out for the very time and they’re going to have that conversation with the person that they trust,” said Erickson. “Oftentimes, it is a parent or a caregiver, and we would love for that to happen, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s a friend at school, a teacher at school, a counselor.”

LGBTQ-inclusive badges

Monday’s filing also calls on the court to stop district teachers from wearing LGBTQ-supportive badges that read “I’m Here” with a Pride flag design on the front. Teachers were given permission to continue wearing the badges in September after some parents expressed concern over a code on the back that could lead to websites inappropriate for children.

School officials said they discussed the possibility of students accessing inappropriate material, and agreed that the codes should be covered so that they would not be visible. The district said it is not aware of any student accessing the QR code or materials.

The front of a ‘Safe Person, Safe Space’ badge, worn by some Hilliard City Schools teachers (National Education Association).

“Any teacher who chose to wear one of the badges clearly understood that the resources at the link were intended for adults, not students,” said David Stewart, superintendent of Hilliard City Schools, in a statement in September. “The resources are provided for teachers’ personal growth and professional development.”

However, the filing argues the badge was specifically intended for display toward students and claims some teachers gave badges to students, with one student in possession of a badge who displayed it while speaking at a board of education meeting.

“We want kids to be supported, but you’ve got a badge that says safe person, safe place — well that opens the door for kids to have improper conversations with untrained teachers,” said Chaffee. “They are not mental health professionals, they are not educated on sex education and the laws and the proper way to teach it.”

The teachers’ union received the badges and supplied them to any teacher who requested one. Union president Linna Jordan said the union thought the badges would be a simple way to show support for LGBTQ+ students and staff.

Erickson said research consistently finds that LGBTQ+ young people report lower rates of attempting suicide when they are enrolled in schools that are supportive.

“I think we can all think of a teacher that we had at some point who was our most trusted teacher who we felt like we could go to for various issues — maybe we had another kind of mentor who wasn’t our parent or guardian but was a trusted adult who could answer some questions for us,” said Erickson.

Proposed changes to Title IX

The complaint argues confusion has arisen in school districts after changes were proposed in June to Title IX, a federal program protecting people from discrimination based on sex. The changes include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Parents cite a resolution passed by the Ohio Board of Education rejecting the proposed federal protections for LGBTQ+ students. The resolution claims the proposed regulations “require that K-12 schools to socially transition minor children to a different gender without requiring parental consent” and directs the acting Superintendent of Public Instruction to issue a copy of the resolution to every Ohio public school indicating that the board opposes the proposed changes.

Rejecting the proposed protections drew strong reactions, including from the Columbus City School Board which passed its own resolution in opposition.

“This legislation is absolutely disgusting,” said Columbus City School Board President Jennifer Adair. “It promotes just blatant discrimination, and it is just full of hate.”

Regardless, the changes to Title IX remain unenforceable until the U.S. Department of Education reviews the more than 200,000 comments submitted during a public comment period this past summer. The process to finalize the regulations could take months or even years.

Tuesday’s suit also follows a legal challenge against Dayton-area Bethel Local School District, alleging school officials violated the religious liberty of 18 anonymous parents and students when a 14-year-old transgender student was permitted to use the girls’ restrooms.

View the filing against Hilliard City Schools below.