Gender policy revision put on hold

The Oak Harbor School Board decided to table a controversial gender-related policy revision.

The Oak Harbor School Board has decided to table a gender policy revision that would allow counselors to tell parents that their child is transgender, even if the student does not want them to.

The current policy states that school counselors must honor students’ wishes regarding family involvement in matters of gender identity and expression.

The revision was originally brought up by Dwight Lundstrom, the assistant superintendent of student services, during a board meeting on July 25.

“It was important for us to table this and keep the current policy until we can have a better understanding of how this affects our students and the best way to move forward,” school board President Jessica Aws said at Tuesday’s meeting.

She said the policy revision was recommended by the Washing State School Directors Association. She clarified that the proposed revision states that counselors would take safety concerns into account, in addition to consulting with students regarding family involvement before contacting a student’s family.

“The proposed policy changes do not state that counselors will proactively inform parents or guardians of their student’s gender preference without student consent,” Aws said. “It also does not change the student’s right to privacy and confidentiality under current Washington state laws.”

Despite no action being taken, the proposed revision has attracted a lot of attention. Several parents and community members have used the public comment period of the last two school board meetings to voice their opinions.

Jennifer DePrey, a counselor with the school district, gave a statement on Tuesday, saying that she reached out to Lundstrom when she heard about the policy as she had a number of concerns.

“Board policy, as currently adopted, also respects the student’s individual coming out journey, allowing them to try things out with safe adults in their life, whoever that may be,” she said.

DePrey said some students are simply not ready to share a new gender identity with their parents and claimed that respecting a student’s preferred name and pronouns reduces their risk for self-harm and suicide.

Former student board representative River Clark, who is transgender, gave an impassioned statement expressing concern over students who do no come from supportive homes.

“They have to go home to people who misgender them, who tell them their identity isn’t real and tell them that what they are is an abomination,” Clark said.

The proposed policy revision even compelled people from other cities to speak.

Felix Hall, a Coupeville resident, runs a book club for queer and trans youth. He said the policy was less about protecting transgender youth and more about pandering to parents who are concerned that their child is expressing a different gender identity at school.

Cynthia Allen, a counselor for the Coupeville School District and parent of a trans child, also voiced her concerns about the revision. Both Allen and Hall spoke on behalf of transgender youth they know but who did not want to publicly voice their disagreement with the policy change.

Michelle Welton, a parent, said children need to know that their parents love them and are people they can trust and not solely rely on counselors for emotional support.

“The biggest part that bothers me is that the kids and adults who are supportive of keeping this policy in place are instilling fear and making it sound like every home would be dangerous or unsupportive,” she said.

Under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, parents are allowed access to their children’s student records at any time.

A March 2022 newsletter from the Washington State School Directors Association stated that “Parents have the right under FERPA to request their own student’s educational records, including any records that might include information about the student’s gender identity at school. Although school districts do not have an affirmative duty to alert the student’s parents when a student asserts a different gender identity from the one assigned at birth, school districts should never withhold a student’s educational records from a parent who requests those records, unless the parent has lost some or all parental rights.”

Both Coupeville and South Whidbey school districts maintain the original policy which states, “Before contacting a student’s parents, the school will consult with the student about the student’s preferences regarding family involvement and honor those preferences.”

On a statewide level, the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction encourages school staff to ask students how they would like to be referred to in communication with their parents. Its website states that, “In order to protect the student’s health, safety, and privacy, schools are strongly encouraged to ask the student which name, pronouns, and gender designation should be used when communicating with parents and guardians before such communications take place, in order to avoid unintentionally outing the student at home.”

The Oak Harbor School Board has put together a frequently asked questions guide in regards to the policy on the district’s webpage, which can be found at