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Florida School District Conceals Federal Case Filings Regarding Parental Rights Suit From Newly Elected Board Members

Board Members Were Not Aware Of Filing Made On Their Behalf Seeking Dismissal Of A Father's Case Regarding Daughter's Suicide Attempts On Campus, Gender Ideology Instruction By School Counselor

During an Aug. 3 Clay County School Board meeting in Florida, a public speaker revealed a motion had been filed on the Board’s behalf seeking to dismiss a pending federal lawsuit regarding one child’s twice-attempted suicide and gender identity without the knowledge of two newly-elected Board members.

The board meeting featured a series of public speakers, including parents, expressing frustration in the district’s lack of transparency in reporting incidents of violence at the district’s schools to law enforcement.

Samantha Wernet, a mother of two children within the school district, revealed Clay County School Board and Clay County School District Schools had submitted a motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit per an outsourced legal team regarding Wendell and Maria Perez’s complaints against Paterson Elementary School regarding their 12-year-old daughter’s “secret meetings about her gender identity” and subsequent suicide attempts on school campus being withheld from her parents between 2021 and 2022. The mother said she was “saddened” to learn Board members had not been informed of the case’s ongoing litigation and had not been informed about the case including an amended complaint and plaintiff response along with the motion to dismiss.

Wernet noted Board members ran on parental rights though said she had obtained public records filed on the Board’s behalf in June attempting to dismiss Perez’s civil lawsuit claiming the plaintiff’s allegations were “false.” The mother referenced the Board’s August 2022 enactment of their Parental Rights And Student Welfare policy asserting District personnel are not required to inform a parent of communications between a student and school personnel if the student is unwilling or refuses to discuss matters with parents. Wernet concluded urging the Board to revisit policy passed last August which directly violates Florida’s Parents’ Bill of Rights passed in 2021 and the Parental Rights in Education bill signed into law in March 2022.

Clay County School Board Mo… by Christopher Charles

According to Clay County School District’s August 2022 adopted policy, personnel are also not required to inform a parent of communication between a student and school personnel if the latter determines no change in a student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being and the school’s ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for the student, or if the information would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect of the child, per the Board’s policy.

Parental Rights And Student Welfare appears to directly violate the State’s Parents’ Bill of Rights, which declares the right for parents to direct the upbringing and the moral or religious training of his or her minor child along with preventing “political subdivisions, government [entities], or any other institution from infringing on a parents right to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of his or her minor child without demonstrating that such action is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest and that such action is narrowly tailored and is not otherwise served by a less restrictive means.”

Any state employee who “encourages or coerces, or attempts to encourage or coerce, a minor child to withhold information from his or her parent” is subject to disciplinary action, according to the bill.

“The welfare and wellbeing of our children is a Constitutional right,” Wernet said. “This is why parents battle in court for custody on who can make religious, medical, and educational decisions for their children.”

“Parents,” she declared. “Not government bodies.”

The mother concluded by questioning if Superintendent David Broskie was aware of the optics of the motion to dismiss the parental rights case as a defendant as it reflects on his upcoming election.

During Board Member comments, District 4 representative Michele Hanson, who was sworn in last November, said she was aware of the case though had been under the impression that the matter was settled. Clay County School Board and Clay County School District Schools attorney Bruce Bickner, who was voted to be replaced by the Board, commented on the litigation by criticizing Wernet’s revelation.

“What you’ve been told tonight is not true,” said Bickner, noting litigation regarding Perez’s case was ongoing and “doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.”

Bickner said he spoke with Paterson Elementary School principal, assistant principal, the guidance counselor, and mental health counselor following Perez’s daughter’s second attempted suicide.

“[We] went through all the details of everything that occurred,” the attorney said. “I found no fault that I could find anybody did anything wrong.”

Afterwards, Bickner said he and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Brenda Troutman spent “almost two hours” with the guidance counselor “going over every detail” of the incident, though neither party found “anything wrong.”

Troutman directed Timcast News to another school administrator, though neither party provided comment.

Within a week, Bickner received a phone call from the Department of Education (DOE) questioning a “rumor” of the incident.

“I explained everything I knew to the DOE. They then decided they were going to investigate this individual,” he continued, adding Troutman contested the decision saying the attorneys had found “absolutely no evidence of malpractice. ”

“When they filed their lawsuit, I sent a copy of the complaint to everyone,” the attorney said, adding he could not discuss the matter on the Board floor due to the “nature and circumstances” and press attempting to report the story.

Broskie, along with chief of staff at-the-time Terry Dennis, were “fully aware” of Perez’s filing and the subsequent motion to dismiss, according to Bickner who said the district retained outside counsel because a civil rights case would “eat [his] day.”

Bickner said he learned of similar complaints to Perez’s in Tallahassee and Massachussetts, both filed by Child & Parental Rights Campaign, claiming Liberty School of Law was sending lawyers from the group to file lawsuits in school districts claiming schools were teaching children to be transgender or gay.

“They’re not,” Bickner said. “I can find nothing to that.”

A group of public speakers, including parents present during the board meeting, began shouting at Bickner and calling him a liar as the attorney dismissed their protest.

Hanson criticized Bickner for speaking about ongoing litigation during a public meeting, though expressed concern over not having been informed about the case and subsequent motion to dismiss made without her approval.

Bickner shot back, “Because you haven’t called me and asked me anything about it.”

“Well, how could I ask you if I didn’t know anything about it, Mr. Bickner?” Hanson countered. “New School Board members could have been brought up to speed.”

District 5 representative Ashley Gilhousen acknowledged Hanson’s concerns suggesting the Board hold a shade session to discuss the matter.

Gilhousen did not respond for comment.

“I can’t talk to you off the record in shade,” Bickner said, adding the matter needed to be discussed in a public Board meeting or via email noting any communication from him must be public record.

The attorney noted he could only discuss litigation to the board in shade if Perez’s case was in settlement negotiation or they held a strategy session related to litigation expenditures.

“There’s nothing to talk about. It’s being handled absolutely correctly,” Bickner said, claiming Broskie had knowledge of the status of Perez’s case. “For someone to come in here because they’ve decided that they’re on the side of the plaintiff and say that it’s being handled incorrectly is wrong.”

Hanson reiterated her concern was not being informed of the ongoing case since assuming office last November.

“I believe that board members should know the information of litigation we have entered into regardless of whether what you’re saying is true or not true,” Hanson said. “It is in the court system, the courts will decide what they’re gonna do … It’s just the fact that to find out that we’re actually in litigation about something that I actually know something about, but thought it was taken care of already cause I hadn’t heard from it. It bothers me that that lack of communication occurred and that we didn’t even know about the case.”

Bickner insisted he provided a copy of the filed complaint to every sitting Board member.

District 1 representative Erin Skipper, a former ER nurse who was also sworn in last November, echoed Hanson’s remarks and said Wernet’s revelation “struck a chord” with her.

“I ran on parental rights. By God, I’ll fight for that till the end,” Skipper told Bickner, also expressing interest in revisiting the Board’s Parental Rights And Student Welfare policy at an upcoming Board workshop.

“We have an attorney who thinks he’s an investigator,” Skipper told Timcast News in a statement, adding she was concerned over information withheld from herself and Hanson.

Hanson, a former teacher in the district, also provided a statement saying she felt “blindsided” by Wernet’s revelation of Bickner’s motion to dismiss filed in the Board’s name.

“I’m simply disappointed we were not properly informed,” she said.

Both District representatives individually confirmed to Timcast News they were unaware the motion to dismiss had been filed on their behalf prior to Thurday night’s Board meeting. Skipper and Hanson also individually confirmed they have received no communication on updates to the case as of Aug. 9.

During the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, Wendell and Maria Perez’s 12-year-old daughter was reportedly bullied for being too “boyish.”

In January 2022, Wendell and Maria Perez learned their 12-year-old daughter had attempted suicide by hanging twice on campus at Paterson Elementary. Their daughter’s suicidal ideation reportedly stemmed from initial bullying by peers during the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year over being too “boyish,” according to Perez’s lawsuit obtained by Timcast News.

The 12-year-old reported the bullying to school administration, though her parents were not informed. The student reportedly felt conflicted about her sex and subsequently conducted internet searches about self-harm, to which administration notified Mr. Perez who said he and wife Maria would address the matter.

Without the consent or knowledge of the Perez family, the student began weekly counseling sessions with school counselor Destiny Washington, who allegedly assisted the 12-year-old in adopting a male identity and insisted on referring to the student by a male name. Washington promised the 12-year-old her parents would not be notified of their meetings nor the content discussed, per court filings. Washington also reportedly referred to the 12-year-old with a male name around the student’s peers, which exacerbated bullying. The student informed Washington of the increased bullying, though the counselor did not contact the Perez Family citing the family’s Catholic faith.

Paterson Elementary’s Assistant Principal Courtney Schumacher cited “confidentiality issues” regarding a “de facto” policy, per the lawsuit, in the district which prohibited the school from contacting the Perez family regarding their daughter’s gender identity unless the student authorized it.

“The counselor had secret meetings with our daughter about gender,” father Wendell said during a 2022 interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham. “She was groomed to something that she’s not, and she was encouraged.”

“No one is prepared to deal with her other than us, the parents—not the school,” he said. “The school messed it up.”

On July 31st, the Perez family filed an opposition to Clay County School Board’s motion to dismiss the case.

Clay County School District released a statement at the time saying “the district has performed a thorough and complete investigation into this matter as it was presented to us and has determined that the allegations made by this out-of-state organization are completely false, fabricated, and appear to be intended solely for the purpose of inciting the public.”

The motion to dismiss filed on behalf of the Board claimed the plaintiff’s argument against Broskie was “duplicative,” citing the Board largely as the defendant in the case. The motion to dismiss also cited the plaintiff’s lack of stating a federal law in which the Board violated, along with a failure to identify a violation of a cognizable right: “Defendants are not under any constitutional obligation to notify Plaintiffs of the issues complained of, nor do they possess protected constitutional right to receive such notification that these discussions took place, if they even occurred, which is disputed.”

The Board’s Parental Rights And Student Welfare also appears to violate Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which passed in March 2022. The bill prohibits “school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical well-being.”

The bill also prohibits “a school district from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a specified manner” and further authorizes “a parent to bring an action against a school district to obtain a declaratory judgment that a school district procedure or practice violates certain provisions of law.”

Florida’s Parental Rights in Education reinforces the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children.

The bill reads:

A school district may not adopt procedures or student support forms that require school district personnel to withhold from a parent information about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being, or a change in related services or monitoring, or that encourage or have the effect of encouraging a student to withhold from a parent such information, unless a reasonably prudent person would believe 70 that such disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect, as those terms are defined in s. 39.01. School district personnel may not discourage or prohibit parental notification of and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.

A 2000 Supreme Court case also found a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment for a parent to oversee the care, custody, and control of a child.

“The interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children- is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this [Supreme] Court,” reads Troxel v. Granville. “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents.”

Timcast News reached out to Perez’s attorneys, though they did not respond for comment.

Timcast News also reached out to Broskie, District 2 representative Mary Bolla, and District 3 representative Beth Clark, who were all sitting Board members at the time of the Perez family’s initial filing, though did not receive a response.

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