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Ohio school district punishes students for 'misgendering' peers — even in off-campus communication and messages on personal cell phones, lawsuit alleges

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Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

An Ohio school district allegedly has a policy that punishes students for "misgendering" their peers, a parental rights organization's lawsuit claimed.

According to the complaint filed by Parents Defending Education on behalf of parents, the policy even extends to off-campus communication and private text messages on students' personal cell phones.

PDE filed a lawsuit against Olentangy Local School District on Thursday, claiming that the district's policies violate students' First Amendment rights by forcing them to alter their speech both at school and at home.

The district's attorneys allegedly confirmed to parents that students are banned from "misgendering" other students and school facilities.

Students are expected to use the individual's "preferred pronouns," and those who refuse will be subject to "disciplinary action," according to the lawsuit.

The district's Personal Communication Devices policy states that students may not use their device "in any way that might reasonably create in the mind of another person an impression of being threatened, humiliated, harassed, embarrassed or intimidated." In addition, the policy includes any material that "can be construed as harassment or disparagement of others based upon their race, color, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation/transgender identity), disability, age, religion, ancestry, or political beliefs."

Depending on the circumstances, students who violate the policy may have their personal devices confiscated, receive a warning, or even be expelled.

The district implements "no contact orders" that direct the "accused" and "victim" students to stay away from one another, often before the school has finished investigating the policy violation, the lawsuit stated.

"Lest there be any doubt about the scope of the Policies, the District's attorneys recently made clear that any student who 'purposefully refer[s] to another student by using gendered language they know is contrary to the other student's identity' will violate the District's policies and be subject to punishment," the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit argued that the district's "broadly written" policies force students to "alter their speech by remaining silent or avoiding using sex-specific pronouns altogether."

PDE vice president Caroline Moore told the Daily Caller News Foundation, "The 'harassment' policies at Olentangy impinge on basic constitutional rights and are over broad in a way that polices students' speech both inside and outside of the classroom."

"We feel deeply for what these students and their families have gone through day in and day out during their time in the District. We look forward to championing their First Amendment rights," she added.

Olentangy Local School District did not respond to a request for comment, the DCNF reported.

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