May 18, 2024

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SMSD justifies transgender discussions with kindergarteners

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A PTA meeting for Trailwood Elementary in the Shawnee Mision school district disclosed the district’s rationale for discussing transgender and sex issues with kindergartners and other young students.

In March, Dr. Tyrone Bates, who runs the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program at Shawnee Mission, participated in an online Q&A with PTA members.  Bates explains in the video.

“If they’re exposed to the information, they’re ready to learn about it whether you think so or not.  And the research says there is no age too early to talk about pretty much anything if they have been exposed to it.”

Like it or not, he says some kids as young as kindergarteners have cell phones that give them access to information, which prompts questions at school.

“The extent to which we can have discussions with parents about ‘how do we want to approach talking about LGBTQ+ because there are students as early as kindergartners who are identifying as non-gender-conforming, as non-binary, as transgender.  And because they are in our classrooms, then that becomes a responsibility for the adults to say, ‘OK, I have a student who identifies this way and have to make sure the classroom is inviting to them.”

The Sentinel asked Dr. Bates to explain the process for parental discussions to decide how to handle questions.  We specifically asked if those conversations occur before school officials speak with children.

Bates said, “Our system believes in partnering with parents and community members to ultimately create spaces where students feel they are safe and belong.  The more we can proactively foster conversations together with families, the more prepared we are as a learning community to respond to our children.” But he did not directly answer our question.

When pressed for a direct answer, Communications Director David Smith responded on Bates’ behalf.  Smith also declined to directly respond to the sensitive gender issues.

“Clearly, we believe in engaging with our parents.  That said, can we guarantee that we run every question that a child might ask on gender-related issues past parents before responding?  Suppose a child refers to a classmate, who is a girl with short hair, and asks: “Is that kid a boy or a girl?” To NOT respond to that question would be damaging to that girl’s sense of belonging in that classroom, and I sure hope that is not what you are implying.  Without qualification of the question on your part, I would have answered the same way as Dr. Bates.”

Bates makes a good point about children asking tough questions at a much younger age these days.  Still, the discussion with parents about responses that they find appropriate on transgender and other issues should occur at the beginning of the school year before kids can ask questions.

Parents overwhelmingly believe that they should be in control of their child’s education.  A December 2021 poll commissioned by The Sentinel’s parent company, Kansas Policy Institute, finds 88% of respondents think parents should have the primary say.

The Olathe chapter of the National Education Association disagrees.  They say parents should not be notified if a child wants to be identified with pronouns other than their birth gender.

Parents have a right to know what’s happening and direct their child’s education and may want to ask about their school’s policy.

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