News Story

Michigan Department of Education tells teachers it’s OK to hide pronouns from parents

A teacher at Traverse City Public Schools uses gender preference forms as an icebreaker. Why?

A Traverse City-area parent alleges that her local school district is not being forthright with parents when it encounters students who say they are in a gender-fluid situation. She cites as evidence materials taken from a high school foreign language class.

Sally Roeser says that a teacher in the Traverse City Area Public Schools used an icebreaker document that suggests the teacher’s willingness to conceal information from parents. Roeser is angry and wants other parents to know about it.

The document Roesser cites, meant to introduce students to their teacher, allegedly came from a German class at Traverse City West Senior High School. It asks for the student’s preferred name. A follow-up question asks the conditions under which the teacher may use that name. “May I use this name when I contact parents/guardians?” The document gives the student who answers ‘no’ the chance to tell the teacher what name should be used in front of parents.

The document also asks students which pronouns the teacher should use: he/him, she/her, they/them, or other. It also asks if the student will grant the teacher permission to use that pronoun in front of his or her parents, and if not, which pronoun the teacher should use.

“A teacher who has never met the parents and known our children for four days is soliciting personal information from them and asking the children if they want her to keep that a secret from their parents. That is a serious cause for alarm for any parents,” says Roeser.

Roeser says that after she learned of the form, she contacted Claudia Riedy, the classroom teacher who used the form. Roeser told Michigan Capitol Confidential she asked Riedy to read the form to her, word-for-word, over the telephone. Riedy, she says, would only paraphrase the document, and said it would be best to meet in person. Roeser refused to do that and obtained a copy from Joe Epser, the high school principal.

She then met in person with the teacher and principal. According to Roeser, she asked for an apology or admission that Reidy was wrong in distributing the form. Esper told the teacher she did not have to respond, according to Roeser, who told CapCon the discussion was futile.

Roeser says she tried to write a post on the topic to the district’s page on Facebook and was refused. Justin Van Rheenen, a content moderator for the page who is running for the district’s school board, told Michigan Capitol Confidential in a Facebook message:

As I have said to Sally many times, there is a team of people looking the post. We have asked for more information regarding the pervasiveness of the matter within the district. An isolated incident that has been addressed has not risen to the level of needing to bring the matter to the TCAPS Transparency community.

Individual grievances are best handled by going to the teacher, principal, and superintendent. As I’ve discussed with Sally, more evidence is needed to address this publicly on the page. I’ve encouraged her to place this on her personal profile and investigate the matter further. This is not an out of the ordinary request for our group.

The Traverse City Area School District did not respond to a request for comment.

The idea that teachers should sometimes not tell parents that their children want to go by a new name or pronoun is not limited to a class in Traverse City. Rather, it is found in high levels of government, including the Michigan Department of Education.

In a training video from the Michigan Department of Education, trainers tell educators they should keep a student’s sexual identity, preferred name, and preferred pronouns confidential unless the student permission. The video also trains teacher in how they can help with a child’s sexual transition, which may include keeping the information from parents.

State Superintendent Michael Rice recently told Bridge Michigan he stands by the Education Department’s guidance, saying it might be necessary to protect some children from abusive parents.

Tricia Foster, chief operating officer in Whitmer’s cabinet, sent a letter to the department, according to The Detroit News. In it, Foster said that the department needs to bring parents’ perspective into its work, adding that it should focus on reading, writing and math. She said, “Knowing we all seek those common goals, the recent teacher training video that went outside of that scope was concerning.” Foster continued, “We urge you to review your trainings to ensure they comply with all applicable regulations, maintain department guidelines, and are reflective of best practices.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.