Montgomery County Incurs Massive Legal Bills Defending Anti-Parent LGBT Curriculum
A wealthy D.C. suburb has incurred a massive legal bill in defense of a policy that mandates curriculum-wide LGBT indoctrination, without a parental opt-out option. In December, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) acknowledged its legal fees for July and August (apparently reported on a 90-day delay) were 549% higher than the same period last year “due to substantial litigation on two separate matters pending in Federal Court.” The school district’s top legal expense went to defending its mandatory pro-LGBT curriculum against parents who wanted an opt-out option.
“Parents get to pay for our own personal attorneys to seek justice for our children and yet also pay the taxes that fund the exorbitant legal fees of high-priced law firms to fight us ourselves,” Family Research Council Senior Fellow for Education Studies Meg Kilgannon told The Washington Stand. “Any parent who has had a legal problem with a public school has experienced this first-hand. “
MCPS paid $487,735 in legal expenses for the first two months of its 2024 Fiscal Year, compared to $75,191 in legal expenses in the first two months of Fiscal Year 2023. Of that, MCPS paid $195,184 to Wilmer Hale, a high-powered D.C. law firm, of which the “entire amount” was for representing them in Mahmoud v. McKnight, a federal court case in which Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox parents are challenging the mandatory LGBT policy, represented by Becket Law.
But MCPS’s payments to Wilmer Hale went back even further. In March 2023, MCPS paid $150,802 to Wilmer Hale for “general counsel matters.” Becket Law’s complaint identified March 23, 2023 as the date when MCPS “flipped positions” and “claim[ed] authority to introduce pre-K and elementary school kids to certain books (the ‘Pride Storybooks’) that promote one-sided transgender ideology, encourage gender transitioning, and focus excessively on romantic infatuation — with no parental notification or opportunity to opt out.”
Becket filed its amended complaint on May 24, which preceded Memorial Day weekend. MCPS paid Wilmer Hale another $78,488 for “general counsel matters” in June, for a total of $229,290 to the law firm in fiscal year 2023.
Records from July and August — now part of the 2024 fiscal year — indicate that MCPS paid Wilmer Hale $136,785 in July and $58,399 in August. The case was heard in federal court on August 9. The federal opt-out lawsuit now had a name, Mahmoud v. McKnight, and MCPS’s legal fees reports now labelled its Wilmer Hale payments accordingly.
In total, from March to August of 2023, MCPS paid Wilmer Hale $424,474. MCPS contracts with at least 11 different law firms, and its legal fee reports did not mention any other business with Wilmer Hale besides the parental opt-out case. The case has proceeded on appeal to the appellate court level, which will increase MCPS’s legal bill.
“It should go without saying that spending this kind of taxpayer money to defend anti-family policies that undermine parental authority should be expensive, and that should be yet another signal to education ideologues that what they are doing is wrong,” said Kilgannon. “Sadly, that’s not how things are working — yet.”
Yet MCPS’s six-figure payments to Wilmer Hale were only a fraction of their total legal expenses. Their general legal fees totaled $1,012,323 in fiscal year 2023 (July 2022-June 2023), which was a 15% decrease from the $1,194,780 they paid for general legal fees in fiscal year 2022 (July 2021-June 2022). Through the first two months of fiscal year 2024, MCPS had already amassed $487,735 in legal fees.
“Legal fees in bigger school districts are a major scandal,” added Kilgannon. “They are amassed at high numbers and constantly because of legal action against special needs families who have to sue schools to get the services their children are entitled to. Instead of providing the services to children, the schools would rather spend millions on law firms to fight it.”
Indeed, special education lawsuits are so expensive (or prevalent, or both) that MCPS reports sequester them from general legal expenses. MCPS paid an additional $601,215 in special education legal expenses in fiscal year 2022, $400,350 in fiscal year 2023, and $76,323 in the first two months of fiscal year 2024 — not included in the above totals.
Yet these sums represent a negligible amount compared to the school system’s entire budget. The operating budget for MCPS in fiscal year 2024 is $3.165 billion, nearly one-half of the county’s expenditures. From March to August, the entire legal bill for defending its pro-LGBT curriculum with no parental opt-out in federal court has cost MCPS only 0.013% of its annual budget. In fiscal year 2023, MCPS’s total legal expenses ($1.4 million) were only 0.044% of its final amended budget ($3.144 billion).
MCPS’s other legal expenses range from collective bargaining disputes to a sexual harassment investigation to pension claims to another federal case to personnel appeals.
The legal fee reports identify MCPS’s other pending federal court case as Association for Education Fairness v. MCBOE et. al. In this case, which began in 2020, a parents’ group is challenging Montgomery County diversity policies for middle school magnet programs that they claim discriminate against Asian American students.
The second largest expense MCPS has incurred in fiscal year 2024 involves an independent investigation into the mishandling of sexual harassment allegations, for which MCPS paid one of its contracting law firms $184,830 between July and August of 2023. The investigation revealed that MCPS “did not formally investigate” a years-long series of accusations against a teacher and principal, accused of bullying and sexual harassment by as many as 39 people, before finally opening an investigation in 2023. Shortly afterward, the man was promoted to the position of high school principal, and senior administrators who knew of the investigation supported his candidacy while not informing the board of the investigation. He was only placed on leave after news outlets began asking questions.
For MCPS, paying high-priced lawyers to justify their decision not to inform parents when their children will encounter pro-LGBT curriculum is a small part of their operating budget, as is covering up their mismanagement of a sexual harassment investigation against a man they repeatedly promoted.
“FOIA the legal fees for your school district, and then start asking questions,” Kilgannon urged parents. “You have a right to know and a duty to make sure this isn’t happening in your own school system.”
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.