After adopting a series of recommendations for making classrooms more inclusive of transgender and gender-nonconforming students, Nebraska's Lincoln Public Schools district has faced pushback from conservative parents and media, reports the Lincoln Journal Star.
Before the school year began, LPS teachers were given training and educational materials that encouraged them to stop gender-based bullying and avoid gendered expressions like "ladies and gentlemen" or "boys and girls." One handout suggested teachers refer to student with gender-neutral alternatives like "readers," "campers," or even nicknames like "purple penguins."
Another handout discussed the continuum of sex and gender, pointing out that gender is more complicated than a male/female binary. During administrative leadership days prior to the school year, LPS officials discussed several news stories about transgender people to acquaint staff with some of the issues trans students may face.
The response from right-wing news outlets was swift and at times misinformed, according to Media Matters. When Fox News contributors Alan Colmes and Tony Sayegh appeared on Gretchen Carlson's The Real Story last Thursday, the pundits claimed that the school district had "banned" gendered language altogether.
Meanwhile, some outraged parents, including one mother interviewed by the Journal Star, claimed that the school district was using taxpayer dollars to push political agendas. In an email urging other parents to resist the gender-inclusive recommendations at an October 4 School Board Meeting, mother Rachel Terry argued that LPS officials were promoting the "deconstruction of fundamental family and religious values."
Despite these claims, which LPS officials consider a misrepresentation of their actions, they have held firm regarding their responsibility to foster a safe environment for all children, including gender-nonconforming students.
"Our purpose is to educate all kids," student services director Russ Uhing told the Journal Star. "We do not push a political agenda, we don't push religious preferences on people, or sexual preferences on people. … Part of education, in addition to academics, is the feeling of welcomeness, the relationship piece."
On Friday, Lincoln Public Schools superintendent Steve Joel responded to the allegations, clarifying the reality that has been largely overlooked by conservative media commentators, reports the Journal Star.
"Never once has anyone inside our system mandated that a teacher take [the words] 'boys' and 'girls' or 'ladies' and 'gentlemen' out of their interactions with children or interaction with adults," Joel said at a Friday press conference, lamenting the time and resources the district has expended on debunking false reports. "There's no policy, there's no procedure, there's no changes being made to bathrooms in schools."
Rather, Joel said, the training and handouts were suggestions, and they arose at the request of staff seeking guidance for dealing with students — staff he said he's proud of for not being afraid to ask such questions.
"This was about adults, professional educators, who care deeply about trying to reach and establish relationships with children," Joel said. "They are looking for strategies about how to be more effective in the classroom."
Superintendent Joel and other LPS officials have no plans to halt their efforts toward gender inclusivity.