April 16, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Some districts still refuse to notify parents of ‘social transitioning’ transgender students

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Last week, Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach accused several large school districts in the state of violating parental notification requirements regarding transgender students.

In 2023, according to a release, Kobach sent letters to six Kansas school districts, challenging their policies that require or allow school district staff to conceal from parents a student’s “transgender” or “gender non-conforming” status. 

“A child changing his or her gender identity has major long-term medical and psychological ramifications,” Kobach said in the release. “Parents should know, and have an opportunity to be involved in, such an important aspect of their well-being.”

According to Kobach’s office USD 357 Belle Plaine and USD 266 Maize responded to the letter stating they had immediately rescinded or amended their policies.

However, USD 500 Kansas City, USD 233 Olathe, USD 512 Shawnee Mission, and USD 501 Topeka declined to make changes.

Shawnee Mission Superintendent of Schools Michelle Hubbard clapped back with a letter in December of 2023, stating: “Your letter appears to be primarily informed by misinformation from inconspicuously partisan sources, as well as by incorrect assumptions about our administrator guidance for working with transgender families. The answer to your inquiry is that, regardless of whether a request for supports and accommodations is initiated by a transgender student or by their parent/guardian, building administration works to assemble an appropriate team to develop a plan for the student, with both the parent/guardian and the student on the team.”

Kobach’s release said that while Olathe Superintendent Brent Yeager asked for a meeting with the AG to discuss the matter, but “despite repeated attempts by the Attorney General’s staff, no such meeting has been scheduled.”

Districts decline to answer media inquiries on transgender policies

The Sentinel reached out to the four districts as well, asking specifically if staff in their districts were required to notify parents if “students are ‘socially transitioning,’ i.e., a change in name, pronoun or “gender identity” while at school or in school activities.”

Only Shawnee Mission responded by sending the same letter they had provided to Kobach.

Shawnee Mission’s pronouncements to the contrary aside, as the Sentinel reported in June of 2023, SMSD has no transgender-specific policy — only a document entitled “Transgender Practices & FAQ.”

That document specifically states: “All students have the right to be addressed by the name and pronouns that correspond to the gender identity they assert at school. School staff and peers are expected to respect a student’s name and pronouns once they have been made aware. The building Administrator, in consultation first with the student, will be responsible for ensuring that the student’s request is honored while working to engage and include the family (emp. added).”

That phrase alone makes it clear that teachers and staff are expected to accommodate name or pronoun changes before parents are notified.

The only time parental notification seems to be required is if a student wants their “preferred name” in the school newspaper, yearbook or similar publications.

“This process can be initiated and documented via the Preferred Name Consent Form.  Parent/Guardian involvement and written consent is required,” the document reads.

While on field trips with an overnight stay, the document suggests this “should be a discussion with the student and their family, with an individualized solution,” the word “should” indicates a choice rather than a requirement. Moreover, if a “transgender student selects a roommate of their gender identity, it is appropriate, with the student’s consent, for the Administrator to have a conversation with the roommate’s parents informing them of the request.”  The policy says parents should be ‘informed,’ but it does not require parental approval.

Last year, House Bill 2138 stipulated that separate overnight accommodations must be provided for students of each biological sex.  Effective July 1, each district must adopt a policy describing how notifications will be handled and share that policy with parents.  The Kansas School Board Resource Center (KSBRC) suggests a model policy that requires student and parental notification of all room assignments at least seven days in advance of departure and also creates a process for requesting changes in room assignments.

In Olathe, Parents Defending Education found the document “Guidance Related to Gender Identity” states that “best practice is for staff to obtain parental consent before addressing the student publicly by their preferred name and/or pronoun.” 

But the document also states: “Staff must be careful to refrain from incautious disclosure of a student’s gender status and/or sexual orientation. Informing the decision to disclose to a parent/guardian are considerations related to the age of the student; whether the student has developmental disabilities; protecting the privacy interests of the student; whether the communications with the parent would cause trauma to the student, and a fear for the child’s health as a result of that communication.”

Additionally, “When a student requests to go by a preferred name and/or pronoun, District staff and students are expected to respect a student’s preferred name and pronoun.”

In Topeka, the guidance specifically states gender identity should be withheld unless the student chooses to pass it on.
“Information about a student’s transgender status, legal name, or gender assigned at birth also may constitute confidential medical information,” the document reads. “School personnel should not disclose information that may reveal a student’s transgender status or gender nonconforming presentation to others, including parents and other school personnel, unless legally required to do so or unless the student has authorized such disclosure.

“Transgender and gender nonconforming students have the right to discuss and express their gender identity and expression openly and to decide when, with whom, and how much to share private information. When contacting the parent or guardian of a transgender or gender nonconforming student, school personnel should use the student’s legal name and the pronoun corresponding to the student’s gender assigned at birth unless the student, parent, or guardian has specified otherwise.”

KCK Public Schools likewise uses those very same paragraphs and very nearly the same exact document saving the letterhead.

All of these policies would seem to be in violation of the “Women’s Bill of Rights,” passed last year, which requires the use of biological sex — as defined by SB180 — which stipulates any public school, state agency, department, or political subdivision to identify each individual as either male or female at birth in collected vital statistics for the purpose of complying with anti-discrimination laws or gathering accurate public health, crime, economic, or other data.

The Kansas National Education Association and the ACLU told school districts to ignore the law.

 

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