Several parents told the Great Valley School Board at a recent meeting they oppose a policy requiring teachers and counselors to keep it secret from parents when a child is questioning their own gender.
The policy came to light recently when a whistleblower teacher came forward to discuss the issue with the Delaware Valley Journal.
Parents reacted strongly to that story.
“Young children do not have the emotional and mental maturity to make such a life alternating, complicated decision, such as identifying as the other gender,” said Hillary Schmid, a parent. “In fact, it’s totally developmentally inappropriate. Here are some facts: The female brain is not fully developed until 21 years old, the male 25 years old. Feeling like one is the opposite gender is called gender dysphoria. ‘The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- 5’ defines gender dysphoria as clinically significant distress or impairment related to a strong desire to be of the opposite gender. Gender dysphoria is a mental health diagnosis. Signs include depression, loneliness, anxiety–all mental health conditions–as well as discomfort in their birth gender. This diagnosis is made by a trained psychiatrist.
“Unless parents have given the doctor’s report stating so, no staff should take the word of a young child and refer to the child as a different name/pronoun,” Schmid said.
Another parent, Andrew McClellan, said he has gay and transgender people in his extended family and he is not homophobic or transphobic. However, he added that he does not believe school officials have the right to withhold such significant information from parents.
McClellan opposes “the liberties that the schools have taken, literally taking decisions away from parents. And, what relates directly to this is transgender grooming. They do it in secret. If it was so desirable and so on the up and up and if they were truly trying to help people, why wouldn’t they do it out in the open? Why would it be so covert? In my opinion, it’s none of the school’s business, whatsoever.”
Sally Campbell, a mother and a pediatric nurse who had previously run for the school board, told board members she has lived in the district for decades and no longer recognizes it. She also opposes the policy to keep parents in the dark about their children’s possible transgender proclivities.
“It’s a very sad day in Great Valley when a teacher is standing up for the children and wanting to protect the parental rights of the children and has to refer to themselves as a whistleblower. I see this individual as a hero,” Campbell said.
But another mom told the board she appreciates the way the district handled her child’s wish to transition in 2020, although she was shocked at first.
“My son was not ready to tell me,” she said. As for other parents who are disturbed by the policy she said, “It is not that your child or the school is hiding something from you. It is that your child doesn’t feel ready to talk to you about it yet.”
The school district has cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as a basis for its policy. However, two attorneys have told DVJournal that FERPA says the exact opposite.
“I was very surprised to learn of the reference to FERPA in the district’s policy,” said Tena Herlihy, a lawyer who has experience representing educational institutions on FERPA matters. “FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of education records. However, FERPA gives rights to parents. Students do not have rights under FERPA until they reach 18 or attend school beyond the high school level.”
Herlihy added, “In fact, if there are educational records that are revealed by the district, including a student’s name, without permission of the parent, that is a violation of FERPA subject to penalties that could include loss of federal funding.”
Schmid noted the inconsistency in how the school district handles health issues.
“You must have our permission to give kids Tylenol. But you can keep a secret of such significant information that will have consequential effects?” she asked.
“I find it appalling that the official policy of the district is for staff to intentionally mislead and withhold information regarding their children. When a child is confused regarding such a serious matter, the parents should be notified immediately
“It’s ok if a child goes to a staff member that they trust to talk to. But then the next step is to notify the parents. You do not get to make decisions about our children’s mental and physical health. You did not birth them. We make the decisions. Schools have zero right to withhold any information from parents,” Schmid said.
A spokesperson for the district did not respond to a request for comment.