School board eyes policy on transgender student privacy

The Oak Harbor School Board may allow counselors to out transgender children to their parents.

The Oak Harbor School Board is considering changing a policy to allow counselors to out transgender children to their parents.

The current policy states that school counselors are to meet one-on-one with transgender or “gender-expansive” students upon enrollment or when current students change their gender expression or identity. Counselors communicate with teachers about how students want to be addressed, both at school and at home. As it stands now, counselors must consult with students about their preferences for family involvement and honor those preferences.

In short, counselors currently cannot disclose to parents that their child uses a different name or pronouns at school than they do at home if the student doesn’t want their parents to know.

The revision to this policy would mean that counselors could notify parents if they felt there was “no safety concern” in doing so, according to the draft of the updated policy. The policy would only apply to transgender or gender-expansive students and was recommended by the Washington State School Directors’ Association, according to the district.

Dwight Lundstrom, the assistant superintendent of student services, proposed the policy revision during Monday’s school board meeting.

“This gives parents a little more leeway to know what’s going on with their students within our schools,” Lundstrom said. “I think this is one of those things that our parents have been asking for, so I think this is a positive change in board policy.”

Vice President Erik Mann said that he had been approached by someone in the district who had some concerns about the new policy.

“It used to say that the district had to honor the students’ wishes, and now it leaves a very subjective way to view this,” Mann said.

Lundstrom said that if counselors determined there was no “threat” to sharing the information with parents, they would do so, even if the student had requested otherwise.

“That’s been the struggle for families,” Lundstrom said. “They haven’t known what the students were asking us to do within school and it causes a problem because we’ve accidentally spilled the beans a couple times.”

Lundstrom thought open communication regarding gender identity with parents would be more helpful to both the students and their families. He said teachers sometimes make mistakes when using pronouns because it can be “hard to keep track of.”

Mann said he was concerned that determining whether or not there was a threat to students by sharing such information was purely subjective, and counselors could come to the incorrect conclusion.

“I see a conflict there that could put us in jeopardy,” he said.

School board member Jessica Aws said she had the same concern and had also heard the same thing from community members.

“I understand that we can provide support to families who may be struggling with this, but at the same time students have to be safe at home,” she said.

Lundstrom said that if there was any “CPS data in the student’s record” that would certainly be taken into consideration.

Mann said that counselors should honor students’ requests not to disclose gender identity information to parents “in all situations.”

“The students know what the challenges are in their households,” he said. “And if their family finds out something that could put them in jeopardy at home, then I don’t want the district to be the reason for that.”

Lundstrom said he would reach out to the Washington State School Directors’ Association to work on revising the updated policy language to address the concerns.

“In the end what we want to do is communicate with our families,” he said. “There is a sense with some of our families that we’re being legislated not to, and they don’t like that very well. We’ve all heard from them so I want to support them also.”