LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – On September 15th, GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon sent out a press release about information her campaign had uncovered about the Michigan Department of Education offering training videos that she said instructed teachers in the state on how to hide a child’s chosen gender identity from their parents.

Dixon linked to an article from Christopher Rufo senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy, who said he had obtained videos and internal documentation from Michigan’s training program, which first took place in 2020 and was repackaged for public school employees for the 2021-22 school year, showing that the “Michigan Dept. of Education has adopted a radical gender theory program that promotes gender ‘fluidity’ beginning in elementary school and encourages teachers to facilitate the sexual transition of minors without parental consent.”

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Dixon said in her press release, “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.”

The Whitmer administration, possibly sensing that this issue had the potential to blow up the governor’s race, went proactive with Chief Operating Officer, Tricia Foster, sending a letter to the State Superintendent Michael Rice about the issue.

Foster said to Rice that the training went “outside the scope” in terms of parent perspectives and urged him to review his trainings to ensure “they comply with the applicable regulations, maintain department guidelines and are reflective of best practices.”

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The Dept. of Ed spokesperson Martin Ackley has also issued a statement about the issue saying, “We agree with the governor’s office that parents are children’s first teachers, and we appreciate their partnership.”

That partnership actually appears in Michigan law under MCL 380 where parental involvement in schools is clearly defined. 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.”

According to the Daily Caller, they also confirm that training materials that they obtained from the Michigan Dept. of Education (MDE) advises teachers to hide transgender students’ names and pronouns from their parents. They report that Kim Philips-Knope, project leader for MDE LGBTQ Students Project, says in 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.

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At issue with most parents that this Michigan News Source reporter has talked to about the gender topic in schools are two key points: Are Michigan teachers legally allowed to solicit gender information from students (in writing or verbally in front of a classroom)? And are they allowed to keep any information they have about a student’s gender identity a secret from their parents?

Many teachers in Michigan school districts already seem to be doing one or both things – soliciting gender identity information and/or keeping it a secret from parents. Michigan News Source had already reported about teacher in Traverse City handing out a secret gender survey to her students at the beginning of the school year.

Fox News reported in June about a counselor at a school in Fraser, Michigan directing teachers not to inform parents about their child’s change of gender identity.

The Daily Caller reports that Davison Community Schools, near Flint, has a “Confidential Gender Support Plan” that appears to tell school staff to hide gender-related issues from the parents of students. While the school admitted they have no policy to tell parents about gender changes, they “believe strongly in parental rights and would contact parents regarding a minor student’s gender identity if the student was not identifying as the gender corresponding to their biological sex.”

In 2017, the State Board of Education issued guidance on “Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for LGBTQ Students” and said that “when requested” by the parent/guardian and/or student that the student is transgender or GNC (gender nonconforming youth), school staff are encouraged to work closely with the student and their parent(s)/guardian(s) to develop a gender plan. It says the same thing about names and pronouns – that school staff will participate in a gender identity change “when requested.” The phrase “when requested” also appears in regard to changing student records.

Additionally, this guidance says that there is “privacy and confidentiality regarding disclosures” and that a “student’s transgender status, birth name and sex assigned at birth are confidential information and considered personally identifiable information (PII) under FERPA (Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act)” and that “schools should engage in reasonable and good faith efforts to protect students’ and their family’s privacy by not disclosing or requiring students or their parent/guardian to disclose, PII to the school and/or school community.”

This information is in direct contradiction to teachers soliciting gender information from their students. The guidance also says that such disclosures “may be harmful, infringe upon the privacy of students and
their families, and may possibly violate FERPA or constitutional privacy protections.”

However, while the guidance seems to support not allowing teachers to solicit gender information from their students, it does appear to condone hiding such information from the student’s parents. The guidance says, “When students have not come out to their parent(s), a disclosure to parent(s) should be carefully considered on a case-by-case basic. School districts should consider the health, safety and well-being of the student, as well as the responsibility to keep parents informed. Privacy considerations may vary with the age of the students.”

If teachers and school systems continue to solicit gender information from students who are under 18-years-old and hide it from their parents, resolution might only come with a court case.

Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Dept. of Education were both contacted by Michigan News Source for comment on their support of or legal basis for soliciting gender information from students and not disclosing that information to the teachers. Neither immediately responded to our request.