A Wisconsin school district goes from the frying pan to the fire. The Eau Claire Area Area School District in western Wisconsin had a training session for their staff in February in which they told their teachers that parents do not have the right to know their children’s “identities.”
The School District is not telling their teachers that they will need students’ permission to talk to their parents about issues related to gender identity.
The direction that teachers are getting from the school district is that parents must earn the right to have knowledge of their children’s genes identity preferences. The training they are being given acknowledges that they are in the middle of a complex situation and the that district’s priority is supporting the student.
The school district developed its “Administrative Guidance for Gender Identity Support.” They give teachers and staff directions on how to develop a student gender support plan that includes giving the student a new name and the pronouns they would like used in reference to them. It also allows the student to choose the preferred restroom and locker room they want to use. And it gives details about the student’s options being social, medical, and/or surgical.
It clearly instructs staff in the school to get the student’s permission before any information about the student’s gender nonconformity or status is shared with a parent or guardian. The guidelines also instruct teachers to refer any parent or media questions to the Executive Director of Student Services.”
Parents within this school district are not taking this news without a fight. They have three new school board candidates who are trying to unseat some of the current members. They released a joint statement that accuses the district of “blatant disregard for parental rights and responsibilities,” and they also maintain that the new district policy causes teachers to break the “known social contract between schools and parents.”
Frustrated parents are voicing their concerns about the division between parents and teachers. They say that the school board is sending a message that schools are in control of children and parents are not.
When the Eau Claire Area School District was asked point-blank about how they can defend their stance, Michael Johnson, the District Superintendent, released a statement that focused on the need for equity and inclusion. He said that problems LGBTQ students have with mental health issues are the reason teachers should keep gender transitions information from parents.
The position rests on the thought that children feel comfortable talking through their gender issues with teachers and don’t feel comfortable talking about those same issues with parents.
Tim Nordin is the president of the school board. He is backing the district’s position. Nordin said, “students might not feel safe to be their true self at home, so that’s why they should be able to turn to staff at school.”
What is happening in Wisconsin is not isolated. Other states have policies for keeping children’s gender issues hidden from parents including Washington and North Carolina. Unless a child gives the teacher permission to talk with their parents about a gender transition process, their policy is to keep it secret.
In some districts around the nation, schools are encouraging children to experiment with their gender identity. Parents are rising up with strong responses. Parents are voicing concern in California, New York, Texas, and Florida about children who are being encouraged to explore gender identities by keeping them secret from their parents.
Ian Prior is the senior adviser and the executive director of Fight for Schools. He said, ”For the parents not to be informed of potential mental health issues, that could lead to very serious things. That is an absolute abrogation of parents’ fundamental rights.”