Colorado school district says staff should use students’ transgender names if parents aren’t around

Colorado school district says staff should use students’ transgender names if parents aren’t around

High-level staff members at a Colorado school district agreed that children who identify as transgender ought to be called by their new name and pronouns at school even if their parents object, according to emails resurfaced on social media last week.

The school district has subsequently denied allegations that it is deceiving parents, and said it told a particular set of parents about their child’s pronoun use outside the home “when asked directly.” However, the district’s policies openly encourage staff members to use a child’s transgender name and pronouns at school but to refrain from doing so in front of parents “to avoid outing the student.”

The emails, sent in March and April 2022 and made public in November after a public records request, were resurfaced last week in a Twitter thread by Independent Women’s Forum senior fellow Nicole Solas.

The thread included screenshots of the communications, which were sent by officials with the Poudre School District (PSD) in Fort Collins, Colorado.

In the emails, Laurel Elementary School assistant principal Amanda Pawelski reached out to ask about the district’s policy in the event that a transgender-identifying child’s desire to be called by a new name and pronouns conflicts with the wishes of that child’s parents.

“I’m wondering what to do when an elementary school student has expressed their pronouns and chosen name but their parents directly tell school staff not to call the student by those pronouns,” Pawelski said in a March 31, 2022 email to PSD chief equity and academic officer Marlena Gross-Taylor.

“I feel very strongly about the student but have heard that we legally have to follow the parents’ direction due to the age of the child (elementary school). I’ve also heard that this is different in secondary schools due to legal determination ages,” Pawelski continued.

She added that she “was asked about this in the ABCs training, and I was told it makes no difference if elementary or secondary and that the law doesn’t make that distinction that we should follow the student, not the parents.”

Saying she wanted a “more definitive answer,” Pawelski explained that she wanted to ensure she and her teachers both “support the student” and are “covered legally.”

Gross-Taylor forwarded Pawelski’s question to LGBTQIA coordinator Shayna Seitchik and educational consultant Darcie Votipka.

On April 5, 2022, Seitchik sent an email saying she had discussed the matter with Votipka and the two had concurred “that the school should use the student’s affirming name and pronouns at school and use their legal name and corresponding pronouns when talking with the family until they are supportive of the student’s new name and pronouns.”

Seitchik said Votipka had already consulted “the previous legal team,” which she said “was in support of this.”

In her March 2 Twitter thread, Solas tagged Fox News, suggesting that a “reporter should get an update on this alarming practice [at Poudre Schools] to keep secrets from parents and brainwash ELEMENTARY school aged children to maintain different identities w[ith] teachers and parents.”

Fox News reported on the resurfaced emails March 4. In the article, the outlet said it reached out to PSD for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

A day before Fox’s report, on March 3, PSD put out a statement attempting to shoot down claims that it was keeping students’ alleged transgenderism a secret from their parents.

“[T]he full email thread that was provided through a November 2022 open records request does show that the school responded affirmatively to the family that the child was using a preferred name and pronoun while at school when asked directly,” the statement reads. “This is clearly stated in the March 31, 2022 email.”

“No staff lied to or deceived parents,” PSD argued. “We stand by our staff who work tirelessly to support students and families.”

However, the school district’s policies openly encourage staff members to “respect the degree to which transgender and non-binary students are out to others,” including by refraining from using their chosen name and pronouns around parents “to avoid outing” them.

Summarized in PSD’s public-facing “Guidelines for Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Students: Key Points for PSD Staff Members,” which can be found on the district’s public-facing LGBTQIA+ Resources and Support webpage, staff members are told: “When communicating with a parent/guardian of a transgender or non-binary student, staff should use the name and pronouns that a student’s parent/guardian use to avoid outing the student.”