TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – A Traverse City parent says that a Traverse City West High School teacher gave her students a gender questionnaire during the first week of school without parental consent or notification.

Sally Roeser, the parent of a Traverse City West High School student, was shocked and alarmed when her son came home on Friday, September 9th and told her that one of his teachers had handed out a gender survey.

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The survey, which was shared with Michigan News Source (MNS), had three parts. The first part asked the student to write down their preferred pronouns. It said, “I’d like to be referred to with the following pronouns” and the choices were: he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs or other.

The second part of the survey asked the student to check “yes” or “no” to the following questions: “May I use these pronouns in front of other students? May I use these pronouns when I contact parents/guardians? And may I use these pronouns with other teachers, including substitutes?”

The last part of the survey said, “If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, which pronouns should I use instead?”

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Roeser doesn’t think that other teachers are handing out the survey but she doesn’t know for sure. She said her son has been in other classes where the students were told to let the teacher know if they had specific pronouns they wanted used and she has heard reports from other parents that teachers have asked their kids about it, even in a public setting in front of other peers. She is incredulous that a teacher would hand out a survey like this in secret without the parents knowing about it.

When Michigan News Source (MNS) asked Traverse City West High School Principal, Joe Esper,  if he’s allowing teachers in his school to hand out similar surveys, his response was, “Teachers do a range of activities in the opening days of school aimed at serving and supporting their students.”

However, when Roeser met with him about what happened, she said he was clearly defending the teacher.

Roeser said that the teacher had not been willing to let her see the survey and it was “extremely alarming that she wouldn’t read me the questions.” When asked how the questions were worded, Roeser reports that the teacher said, “I don’t like the direction this conversation is going.”

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After Roeser got off the phone with the teacher, she said that she talked to Esper and he agreed to email her the survey. According to Roeser, Esper thought she was using inflammatory language by using the terms “pedophile” and “sex cult.”

Roeser says she responded, “I’m not saying she (teacher) is a pedophile. I’m saying that anyone who’s going to ask my kid questions sexually in nature and not want me to know about it absolutely expect to be scrutinized for pedophilia… because that’s a huge red flag…”

Roeser went to the school to see Esper in person without an appointment and was able to talk to him for a few minutes. Roeser says that Esper called four people into the room as “security” for the conversation, in addition to the two people who were already at a nearby desk.

Roeser said that what she wanted was an apology and to know for certain that this isn’t happening to her kid anymore. But that didn’t happen. Roeser said that she had a one-on-one sit down with Superintendent Jon VanWagoner last spring who told her that it was the law that if a student comes to them in confidence
that they want to be a different gender in school, that they can’t tell the parents.

However, she said that Esper had told her on Friday that yes, they absolutely do tell the parents. Roeser points out that the survey implies that they do not. She said she is looking for a clear answer because it’s not easy to discern the TCAPS policy.

MNS reached out to both Esper and VanWagoner to clarify TCAPS policy and to find out what is happening in the Traverse City classrooms regarding the solicitation of gender information from their students.

VanWagoner said that the survey “was not approved by administration and will be revised before any more use going forward.”

When asked why an unapproved document would need to be revised and if this questionnaire was only used by the one teacher, VanWagoner responded, “This was not done across the district to my knowledge.”

The Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP) states that although no Michigan or federal law currently expressly prohibits discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, there have been two Executive Orders from President Biden in January and March that were written to protect students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Additionally, the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights confirmed in June that Title IX protects students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2016, the Michigan State Board of Education (SBE) approved its Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for LGBTQ students and said that the “person best situated to determine a student’s gender identity is the individual student.” It also encourages school officials “to work closely with the student and his or her parent(s)/guardian(s) to develop a plan to address the student’s particular circumstances and needs.”
However, The Daily Caller reports that training materials from the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) advises teachers to hide transgender students’ names and pronouns from their parents.

Kim Phillips-Knope, project leader for MDOE LGBTQ Students Project, says in a one of the videos, “First of all, students have privacy rights. Schools don’t have a legal obligation to tell parents that a student goes by a different name or pronoun than their legal name” and she tells teachers to let the students decide
if their parents should be notified.

When asked about school policy on the issue of informing parents, Esper responded, “It is district policy that we partner with parents whenever student information is asked to be changed per current MDE guidelines” and when asked if he supports teachers handing out questions or asking things in secret he said, “No. We have a process through our offices to communicate with students and parents about sensitive items” and “We do not encourage surveys to be given in secret and our intent is to always be supportive of parents and students and follow federal and state law and guidance.”

What is not known at this point are three things:

  • Is a school legally allowed to solicit gender information from students?
  • Is a school legally allowed to verbally solicit gender pronoun preferences in a public
    classroom setting?
  • If a school legally allowed to keep a student’s gender preferences hidden from their
    parents?

Ultimately, these questions will need to be answered and probably will be someday in a court of law. However, Michigan Compiled Law 380.10 is clear about parental involvement in school. It reads, “It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children.  The public schools of this state serve the needs of the pupils by cooperating with the pupil’s parents and legal guardians to develop the pupil’s intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive environment.”