Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Parents in ‘Purple Penguin’ School District Say Their Objections Are Getting Quashed

School is not listening to concerns about controversial transgender training, families of schoolchildren say. 

Superintendent Dr. Steve Joel addresses the media at an October 9, 2014 Press Conference regarding Gender Identity and Professional Development

Parents with kids at Lincoln, Neb., public schools say their concerns about the district’s controversial gender-identity training are being blatantly ignored by the district.

Approximately 40 people attended the school-board meeting last Tuesday to comment on the training, and about half of those 40 came to express their disapproval of the materials. But when the district published a release to inform the rest of the community about what had happened at the meeting, it included excerpts only from supportive speeches.

“The school board representatives are elected to represent the parents and community to the school’s administration . . . they’re not doing that,” Rachel Terry, who has three kids in the district’s schools, tells National Review Online.

The release also included a quote from Superintendent Steve Joel gushing about the amount of support for the initiative the district received at the meeting:

“It’s heartening to hear so many of our trusted, loyal LPS supporters . . . hopefully have an understanding of what we’re trying to do,” Joel said. “It’s always going to be about creating relationships with individual students . . . so that those students can be successful.”

Terry says this is especially misleading considering that only a couple of the supportive speakers actually had children at one of the district’s schools.

“The people who showed up to speak supporting the school district, they didn’t even talk about these training handouts or anything and they weren’t parents for the most part,” Terry says.

As reported by National Review Online earlier this month, a training document given to middle-school teachers at Lincoln Public Schools instructs teachers, “Don’t use phrases such as ‘boys and girls,’ ‘you guys,’ ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ and similarly gendered expressions to get kids’ attention.”

Of the speakers who identified themselves as parents of children currently attending the school, only two said they supported the initiative, according to a video recording of the meeting. Speakers on the supportive side included LGBT activists, a representative from Nebraska’s American Civil Liberties Union, teachers, and ministers.

Many parents who attended the meeting to express concerns about the program said it was an overreach.

“We need to focus on the academic goals and that is what our taxpayer money goes to,” parent Janna Harris said during the meeting, adding that the viewpoint presented in the materials “goes against the conservative majority in this city.”

Other parents said that statements later made by superintendent Joel stating that the items in the work training were just suggestions and not a mandate did not change how they felt about the issue. (As National Review Online’s original story made clear, the instructions appear in a training document and weren’t handed down in an edict, although this has gotten lost in the subsequent coverage.)

“This is good to hear, but is missing the point, which is that the district is actively condoning and supporting the redefinition of gender,” Rachel’s husband, Ben Terry, said during the meeting.
“Indeed, faculty now have 12 easy steps to guide them in this process of redefinition.”

Another parent, Jon Cosby, said this is just another example of the school locking parents out of the way it is educating their children, adding that his wife had to ask three times to be able to review a textbook before finally receiving it a month later. He also said that the school had to consult its legal counsel before allowing him to see the gender-identity training handouts — and that an administrator told him this was because the school’s lawyer was “really good at keeping us out of trouble.”

“What is LPS trying to hide?” he asked during the meeting.

Rachel Terry said that she and other parents with objections are going to continue to fight the issue.

“Parents are on the phone, we’re getting together and talking about what we are going to do and in that way I don’t think it has tampered things down the way that I’m sure they hoped for,” she says. “I think probably the contrary is happening.”

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter at National Review Online.

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