Board policies around supporting transgender students set aside parents’ right to know what is going on with their child
* Post edited from the original.
Recently, I was introduced to a new public school board procedure, the Accommodations Procedure 1235: Accommodation of Persons Who Identify as Transgender. Much of what is covered didn’t really surprise me, i.e. protecting a student’s privacy concerning their gender, and showing and teaching respect for those who identify as transgender. There is some “education” around the different terms used within the trans community, and some dialogue around washrooms and change rooms (students have the right to use whichever they feel most comfortable in: a gender neutral washroom within the building, the washroom that aligns to their biological gender, or the washroom that aligns to their felt gender). All of this is expected from a document such as this.
Although I have been researching this topic for two years and thus have become somewhat acclimated to the state of dissolving parental rights, I still did not expect the policies that are now in place around communication with home. Here is what the Accommodation of Persons Who Identify as Transgender says:
Some students who identify as transgender are not openly so at home because of safety and/or other reasons. A school shall not disclose a student’s gender status to the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s) without the student’s explicit prior consent.
When school staff contacts the home of a student who identifies as transgender, the student should be consulted first to determine an appropriate way to reference the student’s gender identity. Not doing so can potentially put a student’s well-being and safety at risk (page 3).
This means that if a child chooses to identify as transgender at school then we cannot have a conversation with the parents or guardians at home about the child’s choice. Instead, we are to talk to our school administration.
Let me draw a parallel or two. In my teaching career, I have dealt with many children’s struggles. Sometimes they struggle to make friends or fit in. Some struggle to handle competition properly and it impacts their relationships. Some children struggle with a situation at home and may spend time crying under their desk or hidden in the coat rack. Learning to multiply, learning to read, learning to share… kids struggle for many, many reasons. YES teachers are most often safe, caring adults in the child’s life. I believe this is why children often choose to share their private struggles with us.
How do teachers handle this? Depending on the situation and its severity, we are very often in contact with the child’s home (i.e. parents/guardians). As professionals, we handle these conversations as delicately as I possible and when needed I myself ask for support from my administration or a special education resource teacher. In most cases, I am in contact with the home. When a child is coping with a big problem, parents are on the front lines and need to know that their child is having a significant challenge. This has backfired on me (for example, one set of parents turned the situation around and found a way to blame ME for the child’s issues … sigh …) but I stand by my position. Parents have the primary relationship with the child.
Historically, there has been one big exception: We do not call home if a child discloses abuse and we have to make a report to Family and Children’s Services (Children’s Aid Society, or CAS). In this case calling home could obviously jeopardize a child’s safety and these policies are in place to protect the child. I will tell you that if we as educators ever believe that a child’s safety at home is or has been threatened or at risk, we have a legal obligation to inform CAS.
Why is the identification of a child as transgendered (or gay/lesbian/bisexual, see Policy/Program Memorandum No. 145: Progressive Discipline and Promoting Positive Student Behaviour) another exception? As in the reporting of suspected abuse to CAS, the procedure cites “safety and/or other reasons.” What other reasons? I can tell you that a big one is the unknown factor of parents’ beliefs. What if parents disagree that transitioning is the best option for the child?
With Bill 89, the Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, 2017 in the works, the implications of this are immense. See “Bill 89 Pushes Gender Ideology in Child Services” for an overview of the major concerns with Bill 89. First, we are not to tell parents that their child is wishing to identify as trans (because of safety concerns). Would we notify CAS because of those same perceived safety concerns? I can’t ignore the connection between these policies and the reach and impact of Bill 89.
In our recently published book, “My Child, My Chance,” we shared the following anecdote:
What would you say if your child was accused of having homophobic thoughts or behaviours and was sent to “rehabilitative” counseling by their school – without your permission or knowledge? Think this couldn’t happen? Think again.
In 2012, a couple of grade three Ontario public school students were looking at a poster in the school hallway. The poster showed two men holding hands, two women holding hands, and a man and a woman holding hands. The girls agreed together that, “When I grow up, I’m going to hold hands with a boy.” A simple statement, innocently spoken but serious enough to land the girls in a series of anti-homophobia counseling sessions without the knowledge or approval of their parents. A teacher, having overheard their dialogue, judged it to be homophobic and followed her “duty” by reporting it to her administration.*
How could the school avoid their responsibility to consult the parents before taking a serious step such as counseling? The answer lies in the details of Ontario’s Ministry of Education Policy/Program Memorandum No. 145: Progressive Discipline and Promoting Positive Student Behaviour. In this policy, children are disciplined or receive support following bullying, swearing, homophobic or racial slurs, sexist comments or jokes, graffiti, or vandalism (page 7). As well, support may be called for when a student chooses to disclose private information to a teacher.
Because of the memorandum, teachers have to advise their principals if they observe anything of this nature. Principals usually notify the parents and discuss any supports that will be provided. However, parents are not notified if “doing so would put the student at risk of harm from a parent of the student, such that notification is not in the student’s best interest” (page 9). Harm, in this memorandum, is further clarified to mean “physical, mental, emotional, and psychological” harm.
What constitutes “harm?” The term’s rather vague meaning led this particular principal to forego the call home. Physical harm is, I believe, pretty well understood and often easier to see. But what is mental, emotional, or psychological harm? Who determines what harm is or when harm occurs or could occur?…
The girls were viewing a poster and made a simple statement about their sexual identification. We can assume that along with about 97% of the population, both of these young girls identified as heterosexual… [and so] To draw a clear bottom line: To allow the expression of heterosexual preference to persist is now being defined as causing “mental, emotional, or psychological” harm to a child. (see “My Child, My Chance,” chapter 4: “Our True Identity in the Chaos of Gender” for more).
It is a very similar definition of “harm” that is being applied in the situation of transgendered students. If a parent is not supportive of a child’s desire to socially transition to another gender, the child may find socially transitioning more difficult or impossible. It is clear that the school boards are taking the position that transitioning a child is of benefit to them and that not transitioning them causes harm.
Does Transitioning Benefit a Child?
There are different levels of transition. Social transitioning is the normal starting point, where a child presents outwardly in every way as the other gender but no surgery or hormonal adjustments have yet occurred, with surgical or hormonal transition happening as the child grows. It is true that children who struggle with their gender (and their families) experience many difficulties including self-doubt, bullying, and other forms of distress. This trauma and struggle is real; I will never dispute that. However, I believe that enabling the transition of gender – while it may initially seem to be rooted in compassion – ultimately causes much more harm than good. Studies have shown this to be true. For example,
- Transitioning has not been shown to lead to long-term happiness. This is shown by suicide rates of those who medically transition to their “felt” gender remaining twenty times higher than the general population.
- Children who experiment or struggle with their gender almost always outgrow this by the time they reach adolescence – up to 98% do!
- Gender confusion may exist due to sexual or emotional abuse. Counselors have seen cases of gender confusion disappear when root causes are addressed. Not allowing a child the opportunity to explore root causes may allow past trauma to go unresolved.
I firmly believe we need to do away with the lie that children might be better off if they transition. The question then becomes: How can we help these kids in the meantime, in the middle of their struggle? Is it in their best interest to spend a season of their childhood “trying on” the opposite gender or will this – as I fear – wind up with them bearing emotional scars that could follow them for life?
As parents we know how foolish, stubborn, and misled our children can sometimes be. It is our responsibility to be the voice of reason and to speak the truth into their lives. How can we do this if we are purposefully excluded by the school from having this critical information? We must teach our children what gender confusion truly is and counteract the lies they are hearing. (See chapter 4 of “My Child, My Chance” for a detailed discussion on this topic).
I’m sure many parents, like you, are confident that you would never be unaware of a struggle as significant as this clearly is. How could you ever be unaware of the fact that your child is struggling against their very gender? And if they are, what can you do?
- Know the signs of a child who is struggling.
- If you think your child is struggling, seek help. Know that professional counselors in Ontario are only legally allowed to work with the child toward transition; any indication by a professional counselor or medical professional that there may be a root cause that needs to be addressed can lead to the forfeiture of their licence to practice (thank you, Bill 77, The Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act 2015). Your best bet for a counselor would be found by getting direction through a local church or some youth centres in your community.
- If you notice your child struggling, consider whether the public school system is a good fit for your family.
More information is available in our book, “My Child, My Chance” – now available to you after of two years of research into this very important topic.
We want to help. Contact us at any time.
* This story was related to Susan Zuidema by PEACE Ontario director Philip Lees, as shared with him by an Ontario mother and her daughter.