A questionnaire asking students about their sexual identity has parents in Olathe Public Schools questioning the teacher’s judgment and the district’s leadership.
The “Gender Unicorn” form, from Trans Student Educational Resources, asked students in a 10th grade class at Olathe East High School to declare gender identity, gender expression, sex at birth and whether they’re physically and emotionally attracted to women, men or other genders.
Though the district says the unapproved worksheet was distributed to only one Human Growth and Development class — and the principal immediately asked students not to fill it out — the same thing happened in the class last February.
It’s caused an explosion of outrage in social media, as it should. The survey is not part of the district’s approved curriculum, it’s wholly unnecessary and, as the district acknowledges, it’s “not appropriate for students and asked questions that could violate their personal privacy rights.”
“We are working with staff to make sure this worksheet is not distributed to any other classrooms and is not used in any instruction moving forward,” Principal Kerry Lane wrote in a letter to the affected parents.
Yet, for some reason the warning to teachers after the February incident didn’t take — at least for one more teacher.
“Right. Exactly. On that teacher, definitely,” says outgoing Olathe Board of Education member Brian Geary, adding that it’s a confidential personnel issue but that the district is working to find out why it happened again.
It’s not likely to be the last such incident, says Brian Connell, a newcomer who beat Geary for his school board seat in Tuesday’s election. “And that’s just because teachers have an awful lot of leeway in what they can do and what they can bring into the classrooms.” He says he has a lot of respect for the district’s administration, but it needs to more proactively provide parameters for what materials can be introduced in classrooms. “Being reactive is not leadership,” he says.
Just as importantly, Connell says, parents deserve a seat at the table in their children’s education: “It should be seen as a partnership. What I’m finding most parents are aggravated about is feeling excluded from the educational process.”
A feeling of disenfranchisement is a problem across the nation. Parents are upset about COVID-19 policies, how U.S. history concerning race is taught, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s stated intent to get involved in conflicts at local school boards.
Olathe’s repeat episode, however limited, only makes that alienation and suspicion toward public education worse.
This is not anti-gender identity. Indeed, Connell notes that schools have age-appropriate LGBTQIA clubs. The district said in its statement that it “supports all students and strives to create inclusive environments where students can reach out to trusted adults for support.” Teachers need to remain a trusted adult whom students can approach and confide in.
“They need support groups. Somebody to talk to,” says Robert Kuhn, another newcomer who won a seat on the Olathe school board Tuesday, adding that the breach of protocol was both a privacy and a safety issue for vulnerable gender-questioning students.
What this is about, fundamentally, is transparency and whether parents are included in sensitive decisions over what’s appropriate in classrooms.
“There needs to be some kind of restructuring done on complaints and discipline for something like this,” Kuhn says.
District patrons need to guard against overreaction to this affair. But truly, the greater need is for district action. This simply can’t happen again — in Olathe or any other Kansas City school district.