Family of Boy Who Wears Dresses Sues Education Department

In December, a classmate’s parent overheard Leo say somebody “drinks out of my penis,” according to the complaint. The parent asked Leo if he was talking about his dog, and he said, “no I mean my mom. My parents eat my poop.” The complaint said that the parent understood this to be a joke, a 5-year-old trying to get a rise out of his friends. Nonetheless, she mentioned it to their classroom teacher, Sheri Silverstein. Ms. Silverstein asked Leo’s mother to speak with him about it.

Five days later, Ms. Litwack, the principal, called Leo’s parents and told them to come in for a meeting. She said that the comment indicated that Leo was “disturbed,” according to the complaint, and that he needed therapy.

A few days later, Ms. Litwick was instructed by her district superintendent, Anita Skop, to report Ms. Super to the state. Police officers arrived at the family’s home around midnight, followed by officials from the Administration for Children Services. Toya Holness, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said in a statement that school employees have no choice but to report anything suspicious.

“Schools must be welcoming and nurturing places, and we provide training and resources to ensure students and staff attend school in a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environments,” Ms. Holness said. “DOE staff members are mandated reporters and have a legal obligation to refer any suspicion of child abuse, maltreatment or neglect for investigation.”

Ms. Holness declined to address specific concerns about how staff at P.S. 107 welcomed Leo or introduced him to his peers, citing the pending litigation. A spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department said they were reviewing the lawsuit.

But the family’s lawyer, Allegra L. Fishel, founder of the Gender Equality Law Center, said that the school viewed the comment as suspicious in the first place because of Leo’s everyday behavior. For years, Ms. Fishel said, a destructive stereotype has persisted that says people who are gender-nonconforming are the way they are because they were sexually abused.

“The principal reported them because she believed that this family was somehow aberrant,” Ms. Fishel said. “And he’s not the only kid in New York City who is gong to come into a school like this.”

After a two-month investigation, the state said the charges against Ms. Super were “unfounded,” but a record of the complaint will remain on file with the state for 10 years, the lawsuit says. If Ms. Super is asked if she has ever been accused of child abuse, her lawyer says, she will have to answer yes.

Leo transferred to a different public school in the middle of the last school year, and will start at a private school next week. He seems to have moved on from the experience, his parents said.

But his parents said they felt compelled to file a lawsuit all the same.

“As a parent, my job is not to make strangers comfortable,” Ms. Super said. “My job is to protect my child, and to make my child comfortable so he can flourish.

“You do you, kid,” she said. “I will be the human shield, and I’ll take it.”

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Source: New York Times



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