The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a decision on March 7, 2024, in a case involving a challenge to a school district’s Administrative Guidance for Gender Identity Support, as written. The Court dismissed the case because the plaintiff, a group of parents called “Parents Protecting Our Children” (PPOC), lacked standing to bring the claims. The Court stated that, “[i]n the absence of an actual or imminent injury sustained by [PPOC] or one of its members, we have no choice but to stay on the sidelines.” 


In 2021, the Eau Claire Area School District (District) promulgated the “Administrative Guidance for Gender Identity Support” (Guidance). The Guidance aimed to “foster inclusive and welcoming environments that are free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” It included guidelines for schools to “address the needs of transgender, nonbinary, and/or gender non-conforming students.” The Guidance recognized that students or parents may contact school officials with questions, concerns, or requests bearing on matters of student gender identity. The Guidance also acknowledged the sensitivity of these matters, including the possibility that some students are not “open” at home based on fears of safety or lack of acceptance. For that reason, the Guidance proscribed that “school personnel should speak with the student first before discussing a student’s gender non-conformity or transgender status with the student’s parent/guardian.” 

In 2022, the District prepared a Gender Support Plan template (Template), which recorded a shared understanding between the student and the District regarding the student’s gender identity and parental involvement in the process. The Template explained that “school staff, family, and the student should work together to complete the document.” However, the Template also recognized circumstances in which parents would not be involved in creating the plan.


In 2022, PPOC, an association of parents whose children attend the District, sued the District seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. PPOC alleged that the Guidance and Template, as written, violated its members’ rights as parents under substantive due process and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Specifically, PPOC challenged both documents facially, without alleging a particular injury to any one of its members, that the documents effectively displace parental rights by making major life decisions for their children. PPOC alleged the Guidance keeps “parents in the dark.” 

Procedural History 

The District Court concluded that PPOC failed to allege any injury or risk of injury sufficient to establish standing to sue. Neither document mandated the exclusion of parents/guardians from discussions or decisions regarding a student’s gender expression. Because there was no mandate, the District Court found there was no allegation that any member’s child had questioned their gender identity or otherwise sought guidance or support under the District’s Guidance or Template, which meant that PPOC was unable to plead that information had been withheld from parents. Therefore, the alleged harm was dependent on a “chain of possibilities” that was too speculative to establish standing to sue. PPOC appealed. 

Applicable Law and Holding 

Federal Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and must ensure the presence of a case or controversy. To have a case or controversy sufficient to show standing, the party invoking jurisdiction (here, PPOC) must allege it has suffered “an invasion of a legally protected interest which is…concrete and particularized…and…actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Lujan v. Defs. Of Wildlife, U.S. (1992). Importantly, anticipated future injury may be sufficiently imminent to establish standing. Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA, U.S. (2013). Furthermore, associational standing requires: (1) at least one of the association’s members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right; (2) the interest sought to be protected by the lawsuit are germane to the association’s purpose; and (3) neither the claim asserted, nor the relief sought, requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit. Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advert. Comm’n, U.S. (1977). 

Here, the Court found that the complaint did not allege that any of PPOC’s members had experienced an actual or imminent injury attributable to the Guidance or Template, nor was there evidence that PPOC had asked the District about how it planned to implement the Guidance. To support its reasoning, the Court relied on Clapper. In that case, a group of attorneys challenged the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and asserted that the federal government’s surveillance activities would intercept privileged and confidential communications with their foreign clients. The Court found that the group lacked standing to sue because their complaint did not contain any allegations that such interceptions had occurred or were likely to occur in the near future. 

Accordingly, the Court dismissed PPOC’s complaint. However, the Court stated: “[PPOC’s] expressions of worry and concern do not suffice to show that any parent has experienced actual injury or faces any imminent harm attributable to the Administrative Guidance or a Gender Support Plan. Maybe that day will come for a member parent. Maybe not.” It further stated: 

If resort to the federal courthouse proves necessary in a particular instance, so be it. But this lawsuit came as the ink was still drying on Eau Claire’s Administrative Guidance. [PPOC] seeks to pull a federal court into a range of complex and often emotional challenges on matters of gender identity, where the right policy recipe is not yet clear and the best answers are sure to come in time—through the experiences of schools, students, and families. On these levels, the federal judiciary has no input to provide—no policy perspective to offer and no implementation tips to suggest. Our role is limited to awaiting concrete disputes between adverse parties, and to resolving those disputes under established rules of procedure and familiar methods of legal reasoning.

Therefore, this case serves an important reminder of the standards that must be met before a litigant may bring suit to challenge a school district’s policy or guidance under federal law. In addition, it provides support for school districts’ development and implementation of local policies and guidance, particularly on subjects that may be controversial within the community.

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Jenna E. Rousseau

Jenna E. Rousseau | (920) 283-0708

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