A Wisconsin school district says that federal law requires it to investigate students who refuse to use the preferred pronouns of their classmates. 

According to the New York Post, school administrators in Kiel, Wisconsin opened a sexual harassment investigation into three eighth-grade boys who used the pronoun “she” in reference to a female classmate who had asked to be called “they” the previous month. 

The school claims that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 requires the investigation. 

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. The Supreme Court has held that egregious sexual harassment can be a form of sex discrimination. However, the Court has made clear that Title IX is not a federal speech code and does not prohibit all forms of sex-related speech. The Court has also held that public schools have a duty to protect the First Amendment rights of students, particularly when it comes to issues of public debate.

According to the Post, the school principal told parent Rosemary Rabidoux last month that her son was under investigation for sexual harassment. Rabidoux said that she went “into shock” thinking the allegation involved inappropriate touching or much more serious conduct. When she learned that the allegation involved ‘misgendering,’ she initially thought it was “a joke.”

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, lawyers for the boys say that there was “no prior warning or discussions with the families about pronoun use at school, nor did the district initially explain what the boys had done to warrant being investigated for a violation of federal law.”

The lawyers say that ‘misgendering’ is not a form of unlawful sexual harassment, and they have asked the school to close the investigation.