PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A community is divided as parents and faculty of a southwest Washington school district react to a new policy regarding students’ use of preferred pronouns and gender identity.
The La Center School District recently updated its gender-inclusive policy, wherein the school could tell parents if students change their gender identities or pronouns. While some parents are glad the school district is communicating with them, others say the change could be dangerous.
Superintendent Peter Rosenkranz addressed this issue with parents during his State of the District speech Monday evening.
“I’m not here to determine whether you’re supportive or dangerous. I’m here to collaborate with you on reading, writing, math or science so our kids can learn or grow,” Rosenkranz said. “They’re your children, not mine. As a school, we’re here to support all children, regardless of how they identify. If they choose a different identification, great, tell us.”
Prior to making the decision to involve families, the district would consult with students about their gender identities and pronouns, and school employees privately asked students how they would like to be addressed in class.
Now, the district says it will be transparent with parents and guardians of children who question their gender identity and will ask transgender or gender-expansive students to make the choice to inform school staff how they would like to be addressed.
Following the State of the District speech, a La Center School Board meeting was held, starting with public comment. Some parents spoke in support of the district’s changes.
“Gender is not a social construct. When it comes to gender and identity, the truth is there are only two genders – male and female,” one parent said.
“Your biological gender is your sexuality. It is completely inappropriate for a school teacher or staff member to ask a child, especially K-8, what their sexual preference is,” another parent said.
Others like Erin Smelser, a Clark County Pride board member and La Center School District employee, say the changes could be harmful to students, especially those who may not feel comfortable coming out to their families.
“We really don’t know where this policy came from. It doesn’t appear to come from anybody on our guidance counselor staff or anything like that so we’re really curious how this drastic change in policy came to be and why they’re so determined to stick with this policy,” Smelser said. “Reporting back to parents is outing kids because a child should choose who they talk to. Whether it’s family or not, they should be protected by the school and the district and it should really only be between them and the faculty that’s dealing with them.”
Rosenkranz told KOIN 6 the district still allows changes in pronouns and preferred names, but says the changes come as the district places a larger focus on curriculum in school.
He said this new policy encourages conversations to happen directly between students, counselors and families.
“For a school, we should be sticking to working with kids on their learning, reading, writing, math, science, social studies, all of the other components that people expect of a school,” Rosenkranz said. “By talking with parents and working with families, it’s their children, not ours. They’re the first teacher and I honor and respect that. I truly believe those conversations belong with the families. We don’t hide things from families.”
Rosenkranz said other protocols are in place for students who do not feel safe in having their gender identity information shared with a parent or guardian.
“The challenge is, I have things, I have protocols already in place if I deem a parent to be unsafe. That would be working through Child Protective Services, right,” Rosenkranz replied.
Those against the school district’s changes tell KOIN 6 there is an active complaint questioning whether civil rights may have been violated, but it’s unclear how soon a decision could be made on that and if it would have an impact on the school district’s policy moving forward.