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News / Clark County News

Woodland schools new policy forces staff to reveal students’ gender identity information to parents

Superintendent: "you might want to stay closeted"

By Minka Atkinson, The Daily News
Published: May 28, 2024, 7:56am

LONGVIEW — The Woodland School Board voted Thursday to approve changes to the district’s gender inclusivity procedure, prohibiting school officials from withholding information about a student’s gender identity from parents or guardians.

Now, school staff are obligated to tell parents information including a student’s preferred pronouns during regular meetings such as parent-teacher conferences.

Superintendent Michael Green said at Thursday’s board meeting the previous rule — which gave students more autonomy — went against the district’s values.

“The procedure (was) not aligned with our school district vision statement in two critical areas: access for all children and partnership with parents,” he said.

Procedure 3211P covers subjects including restroom and locker-room accessibility, use of preferred pronouns and communication with families of transgender students.

The district’s previous policy, based on guidance from the Washington State School Directors’ Association, stated school staff should consult with students on whether to involve parents in discussions on gender identity. It also directed staff to ask the student how they want to be referred to when speaking with parents, as using a preferred name and pronouns could put the student in danger if their parents are not supportive or are unaware of their student’s transition.

The changes approved by the board replace the section on student preference with a statement that the school will not withhold information about a student’s gender identity from their parents because transgender students are at higher risk for mental health issues and need a supportive home environment to combat that.

School staff are not to go out of their way to tell parents about students’ gender identify, but should tell parents when they meet with them.

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“The (Washington State School Directors’ Association) procedure can be read as creating a privacy barrier between students, based on their fears, desires or interests, and their parents and guardians, who have a responsibility to support and parent their child,” Green said.

A 2023 survey by the Trevor Project, an organization working to prevent suicide among young LGBTQ+ people, found that LGBTQ+ people are at higher risk of suicide than their peers. In many cases, that risk is tied to a lack of support. Respondents who felt accepted at home or in school reported lower rates of attempted suicide than those who experienced discrimination.

If Woodland school staff believe a student is in danger of abuse because of their gender identity, they are required to inform Child Protective Services. Staff cannot keep information about a student’s identity from parents without a court order or instructions from law enforcement.

However, staff will not initiate conversations with parents solely to notify them of changes to their student’s gender expression, Green said.

Federal, state requirements

Under the new procedure, staff should remind students who share information about their gender identity that schools are required by the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act to share that information with their parents when asked, Green said.

“If you’re really anxious about that, you might not want to be overt about it,” he said. “Essentially, you might want to stay closeted.”

Studies show concealing gender orientations or sexual identities is associated with shame and guilt, as well as depression and anxiety.

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act requires schools to share educational records with parents or with students who are older than 18 or attending postsecondary school when requested. Woodland’s Procedure 3211P says that a student’s preferred name and pronouns should be included in their record if the student shares that information with staff.

The district’s old procedure encouraged staff to reach out to transgender students to ask about their preferred pronouns and any other needs relating to their gender identity. The updated version instead requires those conversations to be initiated by the student and prohibits school staff from asking students about their pronouns.

This change prevents students from being put in a position of having to either out themselves or lie about their identity when asked, and gives them more freedom in choosing when to share personal information, Green said.

The Republican-backed “parents bill of rights,” which passed in the Washington Legislature this year, also aims to provide more transparency between schools and parents. The initiative, set to take effect June 6, calls for materials — including textbooks, curriculum and a child’s medical and mental health records — be easily available for review by parents, as well as for the parents to have the option to opt children out of certain classes, such as sexual health.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a lawsuit against the initiative Thursday, stating it violates youth’s privacy and can harm marginalized groups including LGBTQ+ students.