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A Christian dad claims his gay daughter's counselor interfered with their anti-gay bigotry
Brad Briscoe wants the Anderson County (KY) School Board to punish the counselor and superintendent
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There’s a wild story developing in Kentucky pitting a conservative Christian family against a public school district. It’s not yet resolved, but because it’s blowing up, I figured it was important to get the story out there.
Earlier this month, a father named Brad Briscoe stood up in front of the congregation at Ballard Baptist Church to tell them the disturbing story of how a high school guidance counselor attempted to separate him and his wife from their daughter.
As Briscoe explained it, in September of 2022, his daughter, then 16, asked if her 17-year-old female friend could stay with the family for a while because she was dealing with problems at home. It wasn’t unusual for their kids’ friends to stay at their home, he said, so they had no problem agreeing to it.
Six months later, Briscoe found out the two girls had more than a friendship. There was “a romantic involvement,” he explained. Their daughter denied it at first (telling them, “I’m not gay”), but she quickly admitted to being in a relationship.
The Briscoes couldn’t deal with it. The claimed they loved their daughter but also said a same-sex relationship was “not allowed” in their home. Not while she was under their roof. They punished her for lying to them and forbid her from seeing her girlfriend.
As Briscoe’s version of the story went, in mid-February, he learned that a counselor at Anderson County High School who “knew absolutely everything about our entire situation” told his daughter that she couldn’t believe her parents were punishing her for “being gay” and even suggested she get emancipated from her parents. When the two of them realized that was not easy to do, the counselor’s “Plan B” was to “develop a false CPS Child Protective Service order.”
Briscoe claimed the counselor wanted his wife to lose her teaching job, and have their daughter move into her basement. He alleged that the counselor urged their daughter to bait the parents into getting angry and saying damning things which the girl could record and use as evidence.
Along the way, he added, there were “over 200 texts” between the counselor and his daughter. She was regularly pulled out of class to meet with the counselor (and the forbidden girlfriend). Her grades started dropping. She got moody.
Briscoe said that, one day, a CPS official came to their home to tell the parents that they were going to be charged with “emotional abuse” (among other things). It was only then that they discovered their daughter had been texting and meeting with this counselor.
When they searched through her phone, it became apparent that their daughter had gotten close to this counselor to the point that she was warning the counselor that her parents might come after her. The counselor, whose most damning message is in the black box below, said she wasn’t worried because her colleagues were all on the same page: “[The Briscoes] can take their pick from me, who is the cheerleader of the gays, Ashlee, who is the trashy lesbian, or Melissa, who is the assistant superintendents wife who will make her lose her job.”
It was then, Briscoe explained, that their daughter came to her senses. She realized that the counselor “cared way more about her cause and about destroying you than she ever did about helping me.”
When the family later met with the district’s superintendent, they were shocked to learn the administrators were already aware of what the counselor had been doing yet neglected to inform the parents. The superintendent assured them an investigation would take place, anyway, and when the results came in, the findings revealed that (in Briscoe’s words) “everything that counselor did was in good faith.”
His conclusion? “You better not be a Christian in Anderson County” because people in powerful positions who disagree with you will do whatever it takes to get you fired or imprisoned. (Anderson County is over 50% Christian.)
Since his monologue at the church, the family has lawyered up. The Schuette Law Group sent a letter to the school board detailing their own version of the story, replete with screenshots of text messages. They argue that Superintendent Sheila Mitchell and counselor Jerilyn Hanks have violated their professional code of ethics and deserve to be punished accordingly. (To be clear, this is not a lawsuit. Not yet.)
The letter says: “In retrospect, it seems clear that Ms. Hanks was trying to thwart the Briscoes’ parental decisions in order to facilitate [daughter] Brylee’s and Classmate’s romantic relationship.”
It also alleges that Counselor Hanks warned their daughter that if her parents took her to a therapist (as they previously discussed), a Christian counselor would “subject her to so-called ‘conversion therapy’—another direct assault on [the] Briscoe family.” The counselor “tried to steer” their daughter to a more affirming therapist, but the family opted for a more “objective” option… whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Finally, the letter says that Superintendent Mitchell’s investigation, released on May 22, was inadequate. She didn’t “meaningfully evaluate” the counselor’s withholding of information from the girl’s parents. It doesn’t make a big deal about the text message in which Hanks suggested going after the mother’s job. It offered no “meaningful description” of consequences for the counselor. It “looks much more like a covering to protect” the counselor, they argued.
The letter ultimately lays out the ways the counselor overstepped her boundaries and neglected her duties and how the superintendent failed to hold the counselor accountable.
Reading through all of that, there are undoubtedly some concerns that go beyond the family’s anti-LGBTQ beliefs. There’s a fair argument to be made that some of those text messages were unprofessional. Some of the statements may have been sarcastic as opposed to literal. That doesn’t mean, however, that the counselor was trying to pursue an agenda. If she had reason to believe the student was in danger at home because of her sexual orientation or gender identity, then she had a legal obligation to keep the student safe, and that could mean not disclosing that information to her parents.
It seems like that’s what the superintendent concluded in the investigation. Even if some of the counselor’s comments crossed a line, it’s possible the overall intention wasn’t malicious or some attempt to override parental rights. That would certainly be true if there was reason to believe the child was in danger at home.
But it’s hard to know the other side of the story here because the school officials involved haven’t (and legally cannot) talk about it.
Superintendent Mitchell released a statement on November 7 attesting to that fact, adding, “If the parents sign a release for me to respond publicly, I will provide an updated release with additional information.” (That has not yet happened.)
I have become aware of a video posted on Ballard Baptist Church's Facebook page alleging many accusations. I have been asked to provide a statement regarding this video and the content of it. FERPA rights of students and privacy rights of staff do not allow me, as superintendent, to discuss preliminary details, confirm or deny publicly made accusations, content or the outcome of the investigation unless the parents of the student sign a release for me to openly discuss this matter publicly.
However, I believe it is equally as important to share that Anderson County School investigations, including the one referenced in the posted video, have legal processes in place that are followed, procedures that take place based on the results of the outcome of the investigation, attorneys that are consulted to ensure proper actions are taken consistent with board policy, professional ethics, as well as state and federal laws.
If the parents sign a release for me to respond publicly, I will provide an updated release with additional information.
Not surprisingly, that statement didn’t placate the conservative Christians who swarmed a school board meeting on Monday night. The board didn’t have the authority to fire anybody on a whim, they explained at the outset, but they spent the better part of an hour listening to people in the community (mostly Christians) railing against the district based solely on the Briscoes’ version of the story:
One speaker brought up that the counselor’s actions may have been “millstone offenses,” referring to a Bible verse that says if someone causes another to sin, it’d be better off if that person was murdered. Many others just treated the meeting as a religious revival, spewing Bible verses as if anyone should be guided by those.
The question now is what comes next. Will the district release the superintendent’s findings so the public can hear the other side of the story? Will they automatically cave to the Christian mob that’s out for blood and fire the counselor and superintendent? What mistakes would district officials say were made and what would they prefer to see instead?
At the moment, those questions are all unanswered. And they’ll remain unanswered for now because, as of today, Mitchell said she was still prevented from speaking, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader:
On Tuesday, Mitchell told the Herald-Leader in an email, “because of the student’s privacy rights under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Kentucky Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, I am not able to comment on anything stated by the parents in recent days, including at our school board meeting.
“When I was informed of the situation, I conducted an investigation, sought legal guidance, and followed applicable law and policy. I am unable to provide any further detail or comment without a release signed by the parents,” said Mitchell.
But there’s one aspect of the story that we’re not hearing much about that could be explored: What do these conservative Christians believe is the proper way to handle a situation if a public school counselor learns that a student is LGBTQ, is not affirmed by her parents, and could be in danger because of it?
In other words, setting aside the questionable actions of this counselor (like the text messages), what would be the proper course of action? After all, LGBTQ students who aren’t affirmed face an increased risk of self-harm (or worse). We should want counselors looking out for those kids’ best interests even if that goes against their parents’ wishes, right?
I doubt members of that Christian mob feel the same way. Which is to say that any counselor who acted on behalf of an LGBTQ child would be treated like an enemy who opposes parental rights and religious freedom. If that’s the case, there’s no way for the school district to appease them. Punishing the counselor isn’t going to placate this mob because they’ll just start going after every other teacher and administrator who supports LGBTQ rights.
The Board should assess if the superintendent’s report was fair and if the counselor’s actions were within her professional duties. If they are, they must not be afraid to say that. If they’re not, then they should be clear about what lines were crossed and what should have been done instead, then discipline the staffers accordingly.
These zealots have already made up their mind based on one side of the story. There’s no reason to give in to their demands without first taking a fair and honest look at what the other side is saying.
Update: Interesting side note here: Last year, while promoting a policy change requiring teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns, Counselor Hanks described herself as a “born-again Christian.” That doesn’t change anything in this more recent story, but it’s a reminder that Christians very often disagree on how to handle LGBTQ issues.