Lawmakers heard conflicting testimony Thursday from dozens of parents, educators and counselors about what has become a controversial issue in Maine and across the country: how to balance the rights of parents to know what happens in school with the rights of students who confide personal information to school counselors.

If adopted, a proposed Maine Department of Education rule would make it clear that school counselors should not be required to divulge information from student counseling sessions to parents “consistent with the professional obligations of the counselor or social worker,” except in cases of imminent danger to the child or others.

School Transgender Lawsuit

Amber Lavigne, of Newcastle on March 25, is suing the Central Lincoln County School System saying a counselor encouraged her teen’s social gender transition without consulting her. Stephen Davis Phillips/Goldwater Institute via AP

While such rules typically take effect without legislative approval, the Maine Legislature has the power to review rules and prevent them from going into effect by voting to block them.

School policies around confidentiality vary from district to district. Policies that protect student confidentiality have angered some parents and advocacy groups who argue that parents should be informed about what was discussed during counseling sessions, such as when students are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identities. Others contend that students need a safe space to discuss topics that they may be uncomfortable sharing with their parents.

Amber Lavigne of Newcastle filed a federal lawsuit this week against the Central Lincoln County School System and the Great Salt Bay Community School Board because school counselors withheld information that her 13-year-old child adopted a different gender identity at school, which Lavigne argues violates her constitutional rights. The lawsuit alleges that a school employee provided Lavigne’s child with a chest binder – a compression undergarment worn to flatten breasts – and staff referred to Lavigne’s child with pronouns different than those aligned with the biological sex and name of the child at birth, all while intentionally keeping that information from Lavigne. The lawsuit does not provide proof that the school district or any of its employees gave Lavigne’s child a chest binder.

Lavigne testified before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Thursday that the school trampled on her parental rights because of  “serious flaws in the judgment of a social worker.” Lavigne said parents in Maine should have their rights protected, and the state should not approve a policy that undermines those rights.


“This bill violates my parental rights and the rights of parents across Maine, which are protected by the 14th Amendment,” Lavigne said.

But others argued that students need to be able to have adults they can confide in, and sometimes need to do so without worrying about the reaction of their parents.

Jennifer Curran, a trauma therapist, testified that confidentiality is “so very important.”

“Individuals are less likely to share about challenges in their life during therapeutic sessions if they believe that information could be shared with others outside that session,” Curran said in written testimony. “Children who believe that their thoughts could be divulged to their parents are less likely to share their thoughts deeply.

“To go a bit deeper, children who are discovering their authenticity, leading them to believe they are part of the LGBTQIA community, can face a difficult task of communicating this to their family/friends, some which might not accept or support this authenticity.”

Curran said the “pressure of being different can put elevated stress on that child, placing that child at additional risk for suicide and self-harm.”


Ashley Schumacher of Freeport, a parent and substitute school nurse, said “school should always be a safe place for the children of Maine, especially with the counselors and social workers who assist the most vulnerable in our communities. Students need to know that, outside of risk of harm to themselves or others, they can trust school counselors and social workers to keep the information they disclose private.”

But Ed Thelander of Bristol, the Republican challenger who lost to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, in the 2022 election, said that when school counselors keep important information from parents, it could be causing rifts in families.

“Parents should always have a say in every aspect of a child’s life,” Thelander said.

Schools currently have varying policies on the issue, with Portland Public Schools leaning toward protecting student rights.

But when the Oxford Hills area school district tried to pass a similar policy, two school board members who supported it were recalled.

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee will host a workshop session on the policy in the coming weeks.

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