Indiana School Board Meeting Gets Heated Over Policy Telling Teachers to Hide Students' 'Gender' from Parents
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Parents at an Indiana high school recently discovered an email outlining a district-wide "gender support plan" for students undergoing gender transition, and a policy to conceal that information from those students' parents.
The school superintendent essentially confirmed that policy in a school board meeting with concerned parents on Thursday night.
The Daily Signal, the news arm of The Heritage Foundation, broke the story earlier this week. Investigative columnist Tony Kinnett wrote the email was sent by a counselor last August at Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, Indiana. It told teachers about a student who had changed genders, provided new pronouns, and said teachers should not inform the student's parents because they were "not supportive."
In a photo of a printed copy of the email published by The Daily Signal, the counselor said that the individual "prefers the pronouns He/Him," and that the "family is not supportive of this decision so any correspondence home or in reference to the student should remain as '______.'"
"____'s go to person is me or ________ in the event he needs to speak with someone," the email continued.
The student's real name was blacked out on the document.
The high school is in the school district known as the South Madison Community School Corporation.
The Daily Signal noted it's not clear what grades or ages in Kindergarten through 12th grade apply to the school district's policy. The email has reportedly angered parents and teachers.
"If staff at South Madison are willing to lie to parents about this—what else are they willing to lie about? How can I be assured my kid is safe while he's at Pendleton if they can't be trusted to be honest with me?" Jason Payne, a parent of a child in that school district, told the outlet.
Counselor Kathy McCord confirmed to The Daily Signal over the last two years, dozens of "Gender Support Plans" with guidelines not to contact parents have been sent to teachers across the South Madison school district.
McCord said she assumed the policy was approved by the school board since the counseling staff was told by Assistant Superintendent Andrew Kruer it was "board-approved."
However, South Madison school board member Kaye Wolverton told the news site that board members were aware of no such policy.
The Gender Support Plan also doesn't appear on the district's website.
No state or federal law or ruling appears to give a public school the ability to implement any kind of medical or social-emotional learning plan without informing the parent or custodial guardian of the child in question, according to The Daily Signal.
Kinnett, the author of the article, tweeted: "Funny how all of the other medical and counseling forms and policies are posted on a public school's website—but they always forget to post the 'Gender Support Plan.'"
Kinnett also tweeted that the school district's "administration has chosen radio silence over legally-required transparency."
In a video of Thursday night's school board meeting posted to YouTube, Superintendent Dr. Mark Hall said in a prepared statement that the district has a non-discrimination policy that can be found on the district's website and will honor a request from a student to be called a different name at school without notifying a parent.
"To comply with the law and the policy, the school district treats all students equally in regards to preferred names. The school honors that request for any student who requests to be called a different name without notifying a parent. For students who have requested gender-related accommodations, the district uses a Gender Support Plan. This document is created to share an understanding about the ways in which a student's gender-related accommodation request will be supported at the school," Hall said.
"Typically, this document is completed during a meeting between the student, their parents, and counselors. Accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis, The school prefers that the parents are involved throughout this process," the superintendent continued. "The school corporation does expect our employees to diagnose or treat gender dysphoria."
Hall also noted that school counselors are available to support students and to provide resources to assist them.
"Parents can contact the school at any time to enquire about anything regarding their students. The school corporation does not have a policy and a directive has not been given that instructs staff members to lie to parents regarding anything related to their students. Procedures have been implemented to insure that all of our students are treated equally under our non-discrimination policy," he concluded.
Several parents spoke out against the district's gender support policy.
One parent addressed the board telling them she was relieved she couldn't find the gender support policy on the district's website.
"Imagine my surprise and quite honestly, my anger, that the school would think this would be a decision for them to make," the parent said. "I understand there is a fear of rejection associated in making this decision. But fear doesn't justify lying to parents. A fear doesn't justify putting teachers in a compromising situation by asking them to lie, even through omission."
Another parent angrily told the school board, "Every single person here has lied to us parents who have children that we trust you with."
"You should be ashamed," the parent added. "I am disgusted and don't tell me you didn't tell the teacher to lie, there's an email. We all read it. That email says, 'If you talk to the parent, you are to use the name the parent will expect.' That's a lie! That's lying! If that was your kid you would tell them that they were lying."
The meeting became heated when someone in the audience protested after a former student urged the board to consider LGBTQ training for district teachers. Then the board's chair interjected, "I want to make something clear, right now. This type of behavior will not be tolerated. There will be no outbursts like this again."
He was interrupted by a man in the audience who asked, "Even if you lied to us?" The board member then asked an officer to remove him from the meeting.
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