Madison, Wis. — Parents are “not entitled” to know their kids’ gender identity, according to a recent training session in Wisconsin’s Eau Claire Area School District.
Empower Wisconsin obtained a copy of a training slide from a late February staff development session. The 2021-22 Equity session on Safe Spaces reminds teachers that “parents are not entitled to know their kids’ identities. That knowledge must be earned.”
“Teachers are often straddling this complex situation. In ECASD, our priority is supporting the student,” the professional development facilitator guide states. Teachers were encouraged to “Talk amongst yourselves!”
The lesson — that teachers know better than parents about what is best for their kids — is not sitting well with some community members.
“We are appalled that ECASD would display such blatant disregard for the parents and guardians of our community’s children. We are equally dismayed that current school district leadership would pressure teachers into breaking a social contract that we all know and understand—that parents and guardians hold primary responsibility and decision making for the welfare and care of their children,” said parents and school board candidates Nicole Everson, Corey Cronrath, and Melissa Winter in a joint statement.
The district’s training session is also legally suspect. A district court in 2020 issued a partial injunction against Madison Metropolitan School District’s policy allowing children of any age to transition to a different gender identity at school — without parental consent. The full case is now before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed the lawsuit on behalf of a group of parents challenging the gender identity policy “that violates the rights of parents to make important healthcare decisions on their children’s behalf.” The policy includes the following provisions:
- Children of any age can transition to a different gender identity at school, by changing their name and pronouns, without parental notice or consent.
- District employees are prohibited from notifying parents, without the child’s consent, that their child has or wants to change gender identity at school, or that their child may be dealing with gender dysphoria.
- District employees are even instructed to deceive parents by using the child’s legal name and pronouns with family, while using the different name and pronouns adopted by the child in the school setting.
It’s not clear whether the Eau Claire Area School District has a similar policy.
The school board candidates are demanding district administrators issue an apology to teachers for “placing them at odds with families and also to parents and guardians for breaking the trust and partnership that is critical for thriving students and a stellar school district.”
An apology doesn’t appear to be forthcoming. ECASD Superintendent Michael Johnson issued a statement to Empower Wisconsin asserting the district is upholding its responsibility to maintain an educational environment that is “equitable, safe and inclusive for all students.”
“Our staff often find themselves in positions of trust with our students. The staff development presentation shared extensive data and information to assist our staff members in our ongoing efforts to create a safe and supportive learning environment for all students,” Johnson said in the statement. “The ECASD prides itself on being a school district that makes all students feel welcome and safe in our schools.”
The superintendent said the staff training focused on data showing students who identify as non-heterosexual have a higher incidence rate of mental health issues than heterosexual students. But critics say a school’s commitment to “equity and inclusiveness” does not give license to educators to hide important information from parents and guardians.
Cronrath, Everson, and Winter are among seven candidates, including two incumbents, running for three open seats on the school board next month. The three jumped into the race because they were concerned about the eroding of parental rights in the district.
They say Eau Claire schools’ “blatant disregard for parental rights and responsibilities” has been creeping into the district’s classrooms. The latest training session sends three very dangerous messages to parents and the wider community, the candidates assert.
1. Schools are in control of children, not parents and families—When you entrust your child into the walls of ECASD, you no longer have the right as a parent to be informed of major developments in your child’s school life. In fact, you must ‘earn it.’
2. Current Leadership is willing to pit teachers against parents—Open communication between the classroom and home has always been critical to healthy school communities and student development. ECASD is putting teachers in a difficult and dishonest position by instructing them to actively withhold information from parents.
3. What goes on in the walls of ECASD is privileged information—By indicating that information about your child is ‘knowledge that must be earned,’ ECASD is setting a dangerous precedent. If identity questions for your child can be hidden from you, is diet, curriculum, healthcare, inappropriate relationships, mental health concerns, etc. also no longer the business of parents? Just what are parents and guardians allowed to know and when?
The Republican-led state legislature passed a Parental Bill of Rights that would prohibit school policies that infringe on a parent’s or guardian’s role as the primary caregiver of their child. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat and the former state superintendent, is likely to veto the bill.
Eau Claire Area School District has a history of overreach. Last fall, school officials worked with the local health czar in removing a 14-year-old girl from school after someone in her class tested positive for Covid-19. The girl and her mom resisted, accusing authorities of abusing their powers. The county health director then sought a court order to have the girl forcibly removed from school.