LANSING, Mich. (MIRS News) – The Whitmer administration asked state Superintendent Michael Rice to take another look its at LGBTQ training videos after a right-wing think tank claimed they promoted “gender fluidity beginning in elementary school and encourages teachers to facilitate the sexual transition of minors without parent consent.”

Tricia Foster, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s chief operating officer, also asked Rice to “continue bringing parents’ perspectives into the work you do to support our kids, teachers and schools.” As Republicans ramp up a full-scale political assault on the incumbent 53 days to the election, Foster is trying to hose down the budding fire by telling Rice:

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“We urge to review your trainings to ensure they comply with all applicable regulations, maintain department guidelines, and are reflective of best practices,” reads a letter dated today from Foster to Rice, who works at the discretion of the independently elected state Board of Education, not Whitmer.

The videos in question are part of a series put out by MDE with the help the department’s LGBTQ+ Students’ Project, which was created to help school staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kim Phillip-Knope, who facilitates the training in the videos, goes over different topics for teachers who have questions regarding LGBTQ issues. There are eight virtual training videos, about 90 minutes each, and touted by MDE as success in helping LGBTQ youth who face a lack of home and social support and lacked access to mental health services during the pandemic.

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The Michigan Department of Education is defending the two-year-old training videos despite sharp criticism from the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy, a national conservative think tank. its senior fellow, Christopher Rufo, wrote an opinion about a training program from 2020 regarding LGBTQ teens at schools in Michigan. It didn’t take Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon long to find the article.

“It is astonishing that the activist-run education department is officially training teachers to hide important information from parents about their children at all, but it is unconscionable that they believe this is even appropriate when children are suicidal,” Dixon said. “They are targeting and confusing our children at the most critical time in their development, telling them to use outrageous gender neutral phrases like ‘earthlings’ instead of boys and girls.”

“What is wrong with these people?” Dixon said. “Does Gretchen Whitmer agree with me? Will she condemn this radical and dangerous nonsense? She owes parents an answer.”

Rice said the professional development provided by the MDE is meant to help educators address the realities of experiences, state and federal laws, and best practices regarding LGBTQ teens.

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“Our local educators and support staff care deeply about their students and seek to better understand how to reach students and help them feel accepted, safe, and cared for,” Rice said. “Children deserve safe and inclusive environments to minimize their fears and anxieties and to focus on schoolwork, grow academically, and achieve success.”

Tom McMillin, the Republican Treasurer of the State Board of Education, said he would like answers from the board if the department has videos teaching school staff to hide a child’s gender identity from the parents after he was contacted by an organization called Restore Ottawa, a parent organization in Grand Haven.

“The constitution says it is the natural fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching and education of their children,” McMillin said.

He said the teachers should absolutely be outing children who are identifying as LGBTQ to parents, even if the children are not comfortable with that or have not told the parents.

“If little Billy wants chocolate instead of peanut butter, that’s one thing, but if he wants to be called Susie, that goes under care teaching and education of the children and they should be telling parents about this,” McMillin said.

He said parents need to be told about issues regarding their children, including mental care.

“I don’t think it is something that the school should be dealing with and they certainly shouldn’t be hiding from parents, that’s for sure,” McMillin said.

Rice said school staff are encouraged to work closely with parents to meet the needs of LGBTQ students because there is a much higher chance of being threatened or bullied at school or online, skipping school because they feel unsafe, experience trauma, be kicked out of their home or to have attempted suicide.

“Parents, educators, school staff and the community work together to support and educate children,” Rice said. “Making space in our schools for all our students, including our LGBTQ children, is vital so kids can learn and grow in safe and positive environments. The involvement and partnership of parents and educators are always encouraged.”

Saline Area Schools Superintendent Steve Laatsch and Van Dyke Public Schools Superintendent Piper Bognar said they appreciated having the material available for their staff.

“We have an understanding of the unique challenges that students who identify as LGBTQ+ may face, and how to provide safe and supportive learning spaces,” Bognar said.

Laatsch said Saline has been working to respect everyone’s view.

“Saline Area Schools is working closely to partner with parents with a variety of viewpoints to reach solutions that respect the perspectives of parents while also creating the most effective learning environments for all our students, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” he said.

Phillip-Knope is cited in a heavily edited Rumble video by Restore Ottawa echoing a call from the Manhattan Institute piece.

The Manhattan Institute piece states the program is teaching school employees “how to facilitate the sexual transition of children under their care, while keeping the process a secret from parents.”

Rice called this completely false and “deliberately divisive.” He said school staff do not facilitate the sexual transition of children and the training offered is not a secret.

“Gay and trans kids exist, and they deserve our full support, just like all other kids do,” Rice said.