Wisconsin teachers were instructed to hide their students’ gender identity transitions from their parents.
The directive was given during a February 25 professional training for staff at Eau Claire Area School District in western Wisconsin.
“Parents are not entitled to know their kids’ identities,” reads a slide from the presentation. “That knowledge must be earned.”
“Teachers are often straddling this complex situation,” the slide continues, adding that the district’s “priority is supporting the student.”
The slide was obtained by Empower Wisconsin, a conservative watchdog group. The slide came from “Safe Spaces” section of the district’s 2021-22 “equity” professional development training.
The training sparked outrage among parents and three school board candidates, who released a joint statement accusing the district of a “blatant disregard for parental rights and responsibilities.”
“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,” wrote school board candidates Nicole Everson, Corey Cronrath, and Melissa Winter.
The current leadership is “willing to pit teachers against parents” and is sending the message that “schools are in control of children, not parents and families,” the school board candidates said.
After the training sparked outrage online this month, the district defended itself.
“The Eau Claire Area School District has a responsibility to maintain an educational environment that is equitable, safe and inclusive of all students,” Superintendent Michael Johnson said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.
Johnson stressed that LGBT students are more likely to have mental health issues and feel isolated and said the district’s 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. The ECASD prides itself on being a school district that makes all students feel welcome and safe in our schools,” Johnson said.
Eau Claire school board President Tim Nordin chimed in to defend the training as well.
“This isn’t about that slide alone. This was a professional development session talking about students who are LGBTQ and the extremely high rates they have of mental health difficulties, suicide attempts, and depression,” Nordin remarked to WQOW.
“It’s a parent’s responsibility to help their student become the best person that they can be, to live their true self, but when those students don’t feel safe at home, where are they supposed to go?” Nordin said. “I’m unwilling to tell them you’re not safe at our school. And that’s what this is about. It’s not about parents versus teachers. It’s about students being safe in our schools and having every student have a safe place to go.”