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GOP Bill Would Stop Schools From Leaving Parents in the Dark Over Child’s Gender Actions

Some Delaware Valley parents and teachers have raised the alarm over school districts that require teachers and guidance counselors to keep it secret from parents when students take steps to change their gender while at school.

In addition to disclosing to parents when their children request to be treated as a member of the opposite gender, Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1278 would also stop schools from talking to students in pre-K through fifth grade about sexual orientation and gender identity. For sixth grade through high school, it would be in an age-appropriate manner.

State Sen. Scott Martin (R-Strasburg), chair of the education committee and a sponsor of the bill said, “Sen. (Ryan) Aument (R-Lititz) and I introduced the Empowering Families in Education Act after receiving many contacts from parents around the commonwealth about age-inappropriate discussions that were taking place in school. It is my belief that young children should not have conversations about gender identity or sexual orientation while at school.

“I understand that some of these conversations occur organically and are a result of student engagement. But some are intentional, led by the teacher and without the consent of the parents, and sometimes without the school district even knowing,” Martin said. “We have provided just some examples on our websites, including classroom presentations to first graders about gender dysphoria or another example related to gender transitioning videos, all without parental consent, and in some cases, not even known by the school districts.

“There are even cases of school administrators instructing teachers not to communicate things with the parents, even though there was no legitimate reason to not do so. This is wrong, and our legislation will prevent that from occurring,” he added.

“In addition, the current state standards don’t call for any type of sex education until at least 6th grade,” Martin said.  “As it relates to providing critical exemptions to parental notification requirements, this can only be done if it can be reasonably demonstrated that doing so would result in abuse or abandonment of a minor and allows parents to take legal action against a school district that fails to comply with these requirements.”

Also, parents should be notified if their children are receiving special services, he added.

After a whistleblower teacher in the Great Valley School District spoke to Delaware Valley Journal about not being allowed to talk to parents about their children assuming a different gender in school, parents complained to the school board.

Bruce Chambers, a former GVSB president, says he thinks the bill has a loophole that would let school officials continue with secrecy for transgender students.

“The loophole in the bill is the same ‘excuse’ that the school district staff has used in the past,” Chambers said. “They believe they should protect the child from possible mistreatment or abuse by keeping the information from the parents.  That has always been the reason they have adopted the secrecy policy. However, it is a bogus excuse.”

School personnel are already required to report abuse under the law.

If that clause is in the bill, “It will give the school district employees a loophole to continue with the secret meetings and continue to hide information from parents,” Chambers said.

Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-West Chester), also on the education committee, opposes the bill as “a distraction from the real issues facing public education in Pennsylvania, including adequate funding for schools and students who continue to deal with the impacts of the pandemic.”

The bill had been pulled once before, she said.

“Across the nation, there is an organized and ongoing effort to stigmatize the LGBTQ community, including LGBTQ youth and students, through similar bills,” Comitta said. “The governor has already indicated that he plans to veto this type of discriminatory legislation. As we approach the budget deadline, it is time to prioritize the real issues at stake instead of divisive and partisan-driven rhetoric. With more than $2 billion in federal American Rescue Plan and a multi-billion-dollar budget surplus on hand. We have a golden opportunity to make positive change in the lives of students and families. That’s what we should be focused on.”

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Parents Speak Out About Great Valley Transgender Secrecy Policy

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.

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‘They Won’t Let Us Tell the Parents:’ Whistleblower Teacher On Great Valley Schools Transgender Policy

If you are the parent of a child questioning their gender identity in the Great Valley School District, their teacher is not allowed to tell you.

In fact, under district policy, the teacher is required to keep that information secret from parents. And the teacher must also call your child by the name they choose and refer to them by the pronouns they wish.

“It seems to be a very disturbing thing to me, keeping this information from parents,” a long-time Great Valley school teacher told Delaware Valley Journal. DVJournal is withholding the teacher’s name at their request, to allow them to speak freely without the fear of backlash.

The educator said other teachers in the affluent Chester County district are also uncomfortable keeping the information secret from parents but are afraid to speak out.

In past years, a small number of kids might identify as a different gender, but since the schools opened again after the pandemic closure, the number of those students has exploded, they said.

“In September, the guidance counselor gave us the names,” the educator said. About 20 children per grade were either transitioning or thinking about changing their gender.

“We really wanted clarity,” the teacher said. “Why the district believed this was in the best interest of the kids for parents not to know this information?”

A spokesperson for the Great Valley School District did not respond to the Delaware Valley Journal’s requests for comment.

The teacher believes some staff members encourage kids to consider changing their gender. And some kids are doing it just to get attention. They have learned about being transgender on social media or through their peers or library books.

During puberty many kids are “confused and have discomfort about their bodies,” the teacher said. Most of the students who say they want to change their gender are girls, they added.

The district has even instructed elementary school teachers to withhold information about children questioning their gender.

“Especially, in the upper elementary (grades) it’s permeated so much of what we do,” the teacher said.

One concern is that children who are questioning their gender might also need mental health services. How will they get those services if their parents are being kept in the dark?

“How can we rationalize keeping this information from the very stakeholders who are in the best position to help? The parents.”

Also, clubs like Safe Space run by the guidance department are not on the district’s website, so parents have no idea they exist, the teacher said.

“It’s not on the same page as the chess club, the robotics club.” Parents “basically they don’t know.”

And any teacher who raises concerns over what can sometimes appear to be an ideological agenda in the schools is labeled “intolerant or bigoted,” the teacher said.

Bruce Chambers, a former school board president, shared an email that a guidance counselor sent to a teacher about a student who uses a different gender at school than at home:

  • Name in student’s records: Grace
  • Preferred name:  Greg
  • Preferred pronouns: they/them
  • Parent Awareness:  Greg’s parents are NOT aware. So please use Grace and the pronouns “she/they” if making contact with the parents
  • Greg mentioned that they will write “Grace” on papers in school since the parents will see those schoolwork papers

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The names were changed to protect the student’s identity.]

Chambers, who served on the board from 2009 to 2011 and was board president for two years, is appalled by the district’s current policy. He is a grandparent now and a “concerned citizen.”

“In this case, Grace has asked to use the name Greg and the pronouns they/them. The teachers are being instructed not to tell the parents about this and go along with the name and pronoun changes that the student wants. And, you see that the teachers are aware that the student is hiding it from her parents.  Also, note that the guidance counselor uses the student’s preferred name and pronoun in the last bullet,” Chambers said.

“So, basically the students are taking on a new gender, name, and pronouns in school, hiding it from their parents, and the district staff and teachers are instructed to conspire with the student to hide it from the parents,” said Chambers.

This is the district’s policy:

“All persons, including students, have a right to privacy, which includes the right to keep private one’s transgender status or gender-nonconforming presentation at school. Information about a student’s transgender status, legal name, or gender assigned at birth may constitute confidential medical or educational information. Disclosing such information to other students, their parents/guardians, or other third parties may violate privacy laws such as the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Therefore, school personnel should not disclose information that may reveal a student’s transgender status or gender-nonconforming presentation to others, including the student’s parents/guardians and/or 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 such private information. When contacting the parent/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.”

There is no age given in the policy so it could be applied to students as young as kindergarteners, said Chambers.

“Teachers need to have a trust relationship with parents,” said Chambers.  “My wife (Janet) was a teacher and they pride themselves on having a relationship with parents. Holding something back is just contrary to a trusting relationship.”


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