A training video played at a fifth- and sixth-grade school in the Okemos Public Schools District advises school employees to use a student’s preferred name and pronoun, even if it goes against it the wishes of the student’s parents. He warns that teachers who fail to do so risk facing harassment complaints.
The 16-minute video, shown to staff at a May 2 meeting, features Lara Slee, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Okemos Public Schools, as the keynote speaker.
“In consultation with our legal team, we have found that the student has the right to be called by the name and pronouns they have chosen even if the parents do not agree,” Slee said in the statement. video. “So if you’re trying to do well with the student and the parents are mad about it, the district will support you.”
School leaders are working to make it a school board policy to change a student’s name in Powerschool Learning, an educational technology platform, if the student requests it.
“If you’re in the classroom as a teacher, a good suggestion is to start the year off with a survey to ask students what they want to be called, if it’s anything other than what’s on the class list , and what situations do they want to be called by that name,” Slee said. “Sometimes they may ask you to use a different name with their parents, and as educators in our system, we place the rights of students first, so if that’s what the student wants, that’s what we’ll do our best to protect their safety and honor their identity.
Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center, said gender training sessions are becoming more common in schools, though it’s hard to determine how prevalent they are in that state.
Michigan Compiled Law 380.10 states, “It is the natural and fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children. Public schools in this state meet the needs of students by cooperating with the student’s parents and legal guardians to develop the student’s intellectual abilities and professional skills in a safe and supportive environment.
In the video, Slee warns staff that research indicates that students from the LGBTQ population, and transgender students in particular, are at high risk for anxiety, depression, and suicide.
“They found that students who are in environments where we use their correct name and we respect the pronouns they ask us to use is actually suicide prevention,” Slee said. “You don’t have to be perfect, no one is perfect, but we do need you to try to honor the wishes of our students. If we continue to fail to call them by the correct name, or identify them incorrectly using the pronouns they request, this could potentially fall under our Harassment Policy, and we don’t want that. get there, so do your best. ”
Slee uses a video from Amaze.org titled “Range of Gender Identities” and a chart titled “Unpacking the Alphabet.” The video claims that there are four parts of a person’s identity: sex assigned at birth, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.
“People often mix up the four different parts of a person’s identity and think of them as related or the same thing when in fact they are four very different ingredients,” Slee said.
Slee then showed another video from Amaze.org, titled “What are pronouns?”
“Actively ignoring someone’s pronouns could have detrimental effects on their confidence and self-esteem,” the video reads. “For some people, the pronouns may change from time to time, which means you might want to check back regularly, just to make sure you’re being respectful.”
Slee encouraged staff members who are unsure of a student’s preferred pronouns to use the word “they.” Slee also said school employees should state their own pronouns when meeting new students, so it won’t be awkward if they have to ask someone’s pronouns later.
Slee said the district strives to make schools belong to everyone, despite their differences, and to create a place where everyone feels safe at school.
“It doesn’t matter what you or I think of the students and their names, what pronouns they want to use, how they express themselves in their clothes or their hair,” Slee said in the video. “It is truly our job as educators and people in education to honor the identity and wishes of our students and ensure that they are able to be themselves in our schools. .”
In an email to Michigan Capitol Confidential, Slee said the purpose of the gender identity training video was to answer a number of questions from administration and staff. Concerns from staff who have moral or personal scruples about calling a student by a name or pronoun that doesn’t match the person’s birth sex would be considered on a case-by-case basis, Slee said.
“Working with caregivers is always our starting point when it comes to helping students. Our primary focus is student safety – psychologically and physically – and our responsibility is to provide student-centered learning environments,” Slee said. “We address cases in which caregivers do not want their child to be called by a different name on a case-by-case basis.”