Parents packed the Central Valley School District’s board meeting room so tightly Monday night that late arrivals had trouble getting in the door. Most were there to hear a presentation on gender inclusivity in schools and share their opinions on the district’s policy.
The school board meeting got emotional at times, with one parent discussing the recent death of her child. The crowd was vocal, with some exclaiming “Yes!” or “Amen!” when a speaker said something they agreed with or openly laughing at those they disagreed with. At one point a man got up and stormed out of the meeting.
Superintendent John Parker noted at the beginning of the meeting that many people were probably there because of an advertisement that appeared in recent editions of the Spokane Valley Current and the Liberty Lake Splash, monthly newspapers that are distributed within the district. The ad erroneously stated that the school board would be discussing social emotion learning, critical race theory and diversity equity inclusion in addition to the policy that covers transgender students. The source of the ad is unknown; it simply states that it was paid for by “A Washington 501c3.”
Parker said parents would not be able to ask questions during the presentation, but said a parent and community information meeting on gender inclusive schools has been set for Dec. 8 from 6 to 7 p.m. at Central Valley High School, 821 S. Sullivan Road.
“You can have your questions answered at that time,” he said.
The district’s gender inclusive policy was passed in August 2020 and the presentation Monday dealt with small changes to make it clear that the policy encourages students, the district and parents to work together on gender issues, said Tim Nootenboom, associate superintendent of learning and teaching.
He noted that the district’s policy is required by state law.
“This is all derived from state law and legislation,” he said.
A common misconception is that the district’s policy restricts teachers and school staff from disclosing the gender identity that a child uses at school to their parents, Nootenboom said.
If a student requests that their parents not be told, the school will respect that, he said. But students are encouraged to involve their parents and discuss such issues with them.
Tim Teterud, assistant principal of Central Valley High School, said such a big secret is a burden for students to carry and that parents are usually involved in the discussion.
State law also requires schools to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with their gender expression. Teterud said that any student, whether transgender or not, has the option to use one of several single use restrooms in each school, and to use the restroom to change for physical education classes if they are uncomfortable using the other restrooms and locker rooms. That’s often the biggest issue for transgender students, Teterud said.
Board member Keith Clark asked if students and their parents are notified of transgender students who may be using a locker room. Nootenboom said no, because doing so would be a violation of the transgender student’s Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act rights. Releasing that information would be the same as a doctor releasing someone’s medical information in violation of federal medical privacy law , he said.
Clark said that he often hears from people who believe that the district is teaching gender ideology in school. Nootenboom said the district only addresses gender identity through its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.
“We do not have a curriculum that teaches transgender ideology,” he said.
Parents and community members spoke both in favor of and against the district’s policy. Jessie Waters, who identified herself as a district employee, said she was concerned about girls who identify as a boy using the boy’s bathroom and watching boys using the urinals. “What are the rights of those boys?” she said.
Bo Begalman said she believes the district’s policy says that parents are the enemies of their children. “This policy spits in the face of parents,” she said. “Parents must be the primary stakeholder for the child, not the school or the government.”
Stacy Taninchev, a middle school parent, said she believes that all students deserve to have their identity recognized. “It’s the school’s responsibility to make sure our students are safe and feel empowered,” she said.
Dr. Pam Kohlmeier said her adult child Katie, who identified as a transgender nonbinary person, recently died by suicide and their funeral is next week. Some of Katie’s trauma stemmed from school, where they began limiting their fluid intake in the fifth grade because they were afraid to use the restroom at school. Katie dressed and acted like a boy, Kohlmeier said. “Katie did not feel like a girl, ever,” she said.
She noted that one of Katie’s friends got in trouble at school for using Katie’s preferred pronouns of they/them. “Educators need education on pronoun usage,” she said.
Barbara Witkoe, who has been a Central Valley fifth-grade teacher for 23 years, said she has had transgender students in her classes and some have considered suicide. “Every single one of those years I’ve had students who struggle with their sexual identity as they enter puberty,” she said. “My students are 10 and 11 years old and they’re considering suicide.”
Parent Bryan Taylor said schools need to focus on the safety and well-being of all students and not be concerned with the morality of students’ choices. He urged the district to continue to allow students to not disclose their gender identity to their parents.
“If a student has not come out to their parents, they are afraid of their parents,” he said. “Outing a student, even to their parents, can be a matter of life and death.”
Parent and grandparent Jill Gregerson said that only 1% or 2% of the district’s students are transgender and that she’s concerned about the other 98% . “Why are they being subjected to this ideology?” she said.
Gregerson said she believes that being transgender is a mental disorder. “I don’t want anyone to ask my grandkids what their preferred pronouns are,” she said. “This is planting unhealthy seeds in our vulnerable children. Boys are boys and girls are girls.”
“Gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder,” according to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association. The manual describes “gender dysphoria” as distress transgender people sometimes experience from a mismatch between the gender they identify as and the gender they are assigned.
Joel Maltsberger said he is sympathetic “for those who are confused” but that transgender people often have problems with depression because they are trying to go against God’s will. “God created man and woman, male and female,” he said. “Counsel them in the right direction so they can be free of the confusion they’re in. When we live the way God designed us, we live in peace, we live in joy.”
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