June 6, 2023

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ONEA opposes parental notification on gender pronouns

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ONEA, the Olathe chapter of the NEA teacher union, says parents should not be notified that their children wish to identify using pronouns other than their birth gender, and Olathe school officials won’t comment on the controversy.

In late 2021 the Olathe Board of Education approved a “pronoun” policy for transgender students which requires parental permission for pronoun or name changes.

Shortly afterward, the school received letters from both the American Civil Liberties Union — which is alleging the district policy violates student’s Constitutional rights — and another, obtained by the Sentinel from the Olathe NEA 

The ACLU wrote that “… students enjoy privacy rights over their sexual orientation and gender identity, and that mandatory outing of this sensitive information to a student’s family runs afoul of the constitution and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (‘FERPA’).”

The ACLU of Kansas also said that the policy “likely violates the District’s own anti-discrimination policy, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Olathe NEA went further, stating a University of Texas at Austin study “reveals that ‘peers, parents, teachers, health care providers, and education and medical institutions can support transgender youth and their mental health by referring to them by their chosen names (and pronouns).'”

Furthermore, ONEA wrote, “Nowhere in this study — or the other literature we reviewed — does it indicate that it’s best practice to obtain parent permission first before using affirming names or pronouns. although we acknowledge the importance of parent collaboration in many educational contexts. Simply put, the written guidance provided is in conflict with the district’s focus on social and emotional wellbeing and mental health.” 

ONEA, in the letter also dismissed the idea that some subjects might not be appropriate for young students.

“In previous discussions of the verbal guidance as well as the written guidance provided, ‘age appropriateness’ has been an important topic,” the letter reads. “Olathe NEA believes that gender identity and expression is an aspect of all of our students’ identities, not just something to be considered at high school.”

The union also demanded the current guidance be rescinded, and that the district “Create new guidance in collaboration with the ACLU and/or local LGBTQ+ organizations,” and “begin a search process to add a staff person representing the LGBTQ+ community to the DEI department.” Additionally, the union demanded the district “create a resource for parents and families to navigate conversations at home with their child at home in an affirming way if their child tells them they are non-binary or trans or if the student asks for assistance/resources. These resources should be available but only shared with families at the students’ request. (emphasis added.)

The Sentinel sent emails to Olathe Superintendent of Schools Brent Yeager and Board of Education President Joe Beveridge.  Yeager replied, “In the future, please reach out to our communications department. I have copied them on this email.”

No one from the communications department responded.

Beveridge deleted the emailed request without reading it.

The Sentinel asked only if the district had any response to the letters and if it had implemented any of the “recommendations” from the local teacher’s union.

Since none of the inquiries were answered — which is not unusual for Olathe Public Schools — it is, therefore, unclear at this time if the guidance requiring parental permission for a child to change names or pronounce is still in effect or if the district has acquiesced to the laundry list of demands.

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