Parts of Washington state parental rights law criticized as a ‘forced outing’ placed on hold

Jun 21, 2024, 8:03 PM

SEATTLE (AP) — A judge has paused parts of a new Washington state parental rights law derided by critics as a “forced outing” measure.

King County Superior Court Judge Michael Scott on Friday paused portions of the law while a lawsuit brought by civil liberties groups and others is pending, The Seattle Times reported.

The law, known as Initiative 2081, went into effect on June 6. A provision of the law outlining how and when schools must respond to records requests from parents was placed on hold Friday, as well as a provision permitting a parent to access their student’s medical and mental health records.

Other provisions of the law will remain in effect for now, including a section giving parents the ability to opt their children out of assignments and other “student engagements” that include questions about topics such as morality, religion, sexuality and politics.

Adrien Leavitt, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which is one of the groups that brought the lawsuit, said the organization was pleased the ruling would prevent parts of the law from “causing further harm” while a final decision is sought.

“(The initiative) gave parents this new right to get any medical or mental health records related to their students that appear in schools, and that contradicts the fact that Washington youth have a right to confidential health care,” said Julia Marks, litigation attorney at Legal Voice, another group challenging the law.

The initiative was backed by Brian Heywood, a conservative megadonor who has said the measure was not designed to give parents veto power over their child’s decision to access counseling or medical treatment, but just says they have a right to know about it.

Heywood said in a statement that “activist judges think they are smarter than legislators who in turn think they are smarter than voters.”

The Democratic-led Legislature overwhelmingly approved the measure in March, with progressive lawmakers wanting to keep it off the fall ballot and calculating that courts would likely block it.

Critics have said the measure could harm students who go to school clinics seeking access to birth control, referrals for reproductive services, counseling related to their gender identity or sexual orientation, or treatment or support for sexual assault or domestic violence. In many of those cases, the students do not want their parents to know, they said.

The ACLU of Washington and other groups challenging the measure say it violates the state Constitution, which requires that new laws not revise or revoke old laws without explicitly saying so.

For example, state law ensures the privacy of medical records for young people authorized to receive care, including abortions, without parental consent. The new law would give parents the right to be notified before their child receives care and the ability to review school medical records, the lawsuit plaintiffs said, but it does not specifically say it amends the existing privacy law.

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Parts of Washington state parental rights law criticized as a ‘forced outing’ placed on hold