I had to sign a consent form this week so that my children can take Tylenol at school. But if my child wants to be called by a new name, use different pronouns or use the opposite restroom or locker room than the one he has used his whole life, the Rhode Island Department of Education and many school districts in the Ocean State contend that I have no right to know.
Most of us remember a time when the idea of a teacher or school official encouraging the children in their care to keep a secret from their parents would have been seen as a betrayal. There was a consensus that it was not the role of the teacher or school system to deliberately put themselves between a parent and their child.
Those days are over.
I have spent the past few months talking to teachers both in and out of Rhode Island who say they are troubled and “literally sick” over what their school district is requiring of them as it pertains to the policy for transgender and gender nonconforming students. Specifically, they have expressed alarm at the “Gender Support Plan,” a document widely used by schools to inform teachers and other school staff of a child’s new chosen name, pronouns and gender identity. These plans ensure that a student can use the bathroom and locker room that aligns with their gender identity, not their biological sex. The plans promise the same for all extra-curricular activities, including field trips that include an overnight stay.
Most gender support plans include a box the student can check to indicate whether or not their parents are “aware of” or “supportive of” their child’s new gender identity. If the answer to either of those questions is no, the school fully implements the plan without the parents’ knowledge. Teachers tell me that they are given explicit instructions by their principals: “Do not tell Jennifer’s parents that she now goes by James and wants to be referred to as he/him.” (I have changed the names to protect confidentiality.)
The deception is baked into “the plan.” Months go by and all documents sent home maintain the daughter’s birth name and sex that nobody is allowed to use during the school day. The distress that teachers and other school employees express is directly related to the complicity they feel in this deception of parents. One Rhode Island teacher who asked to remain anonymous told me that “parents think they can trust us and instead, as a condition of our employment, we are part of a massive lie. It is immoral what we are being required to do.”
There are teachers who are totally on board with the school keeping this information from parents. As far as they are concerned, if a child feels the need to keep their gender identity from their parents, the home must be an “unsafe” place that “causes harm.” One veteran educator in Rhode Island recently told me that students have a right to privacy when disclosing their gender identity and preferred names at school, including from their parents, even when school counselors, administrators, teachers and administrative staff are all in the know.
Parental rights do not disappear when parents send their children to school – the very reason the school has authority over the child is because of parental consent. Parents delegate their own parental authority to schools, which then act “in loco parentis” during the day. Concealing information from parents, or worse, deceiving them, is entirely at odds with that delegation of authority.
Sanzi is the director of outreach at Parents Defending Education and a former educator and school committee member. She writes at Sanzi.substack.com.