School board rebuffs requests after controversial gender training fiasco

While Lincoln’s superintendent removed controversial gender sensitivity training materials from a middle school, the Lincoln school board presented a united front Tuesday, saying the training complied with district policies.

The training materials made national news because they suggested teachers not call students “boys and girls” but less gender-specific terms, such as campers or contrived class mascots — Purple Penguins. More than a month later, the controversy continues, with the leader of a group of concerned residents saying he won’t rule out a drive to recall board members if the board continues to ignore their concerns.

Two weeks ago, after consecutive school board meetings in which people bombarded the board with concerns, Superintendent Steve Joel ordered the training materials removed from Irving Middle School.

But Tuesday, the board announced — with no prior notice that a review was even happening — that a three-member standing subcommittee convened to review concerns; it met Nov. 3 and determined the gender training complied with LPS policies.

Some residents alleged the training materials violated several district policies and called for added transparency and a change to its policy on parental involvement.

Katie McLeese Stephenson, chairwoman of the policy subcommittee, said the training materials didn’t violate any LPS policy — largely because they weren’t part of the curriculum — and recommended no policy changes.

The committee said the district’s current parental involvement policy is adequate, and the training didn’t violate a policy allowing teachers to hold their own personal beliefs. They noted no staffers have come to the board with concerns about the training.

McLeese Stephenson referred to an April U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights memo saying federal education law’s ban on sex discrimination, Title IX, extends to claims based on gender identity or “failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.”

“Since meeting the needs of transgender students is a legal requirement, the discussion of that topic is not a presentation of one political viewpoint, but following through on a Title IX requirement,” she said.

A group called Citizens for Accountable and Responsible Education sprang out of the controversy with the goal of getting LPS to address transparency, notification and opt-out issues.

The group’s recently installed president, John Cosby, said it seemed the school board “dodged or discarded every concern a parent has had on this issue” Tuesday.

But the controversy is far from over, he said.

“Not even close. It’s a bit baffling to me, to be honest, if they really wanted to listen, or make this go away, they wouldn’t be so dismissive.”

Cosby said he wouldn’t rule out a recall of board members.

“I would prefer to be able to work it out,” he said, “but I wouldn’t rule anything out if there’s enough people in this community who say this is unacceptable and LPS doesn’t do anything about it.”

It didn’t sound to him as if the school board was willing to work it out. He said he got the feeling Tuesday the board “almost regretted” removing the training materials.

He said the school board investigated itself and said, in essence, “Don’t worry. Trust us.”

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By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog


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