Wis. School District: Parents Not “Entitled To Know” Sparks Controversy

Some candidates for school board positions are conflicting because of a guideline shared with Eau Claire School District teachers during staff development training.

Several school board candidates stated in a single media statement that they are outraged by school district advice that says instructors are not to discuss certain ways pupils identify to their parents, such as if a youngster informs a staff member they are homosexual or transgender.

While some criticize the district for its secrecy, others argue that it is an issue of safety.

During a recent staff development day for teachers in Eau Claire schools, staff was instructed “Remember, parents are not entitled to know their kids’ identities.  That knowledge must be earned.”

“They’re asking them to withhold that from the parents. They’re asking teachers to keep secrets,” said Nicole Everson, Eau Claire School Board candidate.

Nicole Everson, together with candidates Corey Cronrath and Melissa Winter, stated in a joint media release that the guideline demonstrated “blatant disregard for parental rights and responsibilities.”

“They’re asking teachers not to communicate with parents about issues that pertain to their child,” Everson said. “I’m responsible for my child until they move out or they’re 18 years old. And so I have the sole decision-making of what goes on with my child.”

Tim Nordin, the president of the Eau Claire School Board, who is competing for re-election, claimed the quote in question was taken out of context.

“This isn’t about that slide alone. This was a professional development session talking about students who are LGBTQ and the extremely high rates they have of mental health difficulties, suicide attempts, and depression,” Nordin said.

When LGBT kids feel like they can’t be themselves at home with their families, they confide in their professors, according to Nordin, and it’s all about instructors having students’ trust and confidence.

“It’s a parent’s responsibility to help their student become the best person that they can be, to live their true self, but when those students don’t feel safe at home, where are they supposed to go?” Nordin said. “I’m unwilling to tell them you’re not safe at our school. And that’s what this is about. It’s not about parents versus teachers. It’s about students being safe in our schools and having every student have a safe place to go.”

Everson feels there is a lack of openness in what is taught and what our instructors are supposed to do, and she claims she is not alone in her complaints.

“Talking to community members including staff members, including students, a lot of people are concerned.  Our city is not being heard.  People in our district are not being heard,” Everson said.

Eau Claire Superintendent Michael Johnson said in a statement to News 18 that the Eau Claire Area School District has a responsibility to provide an educational environment that is equitable, safe, and inclusive of all students, and that staff received training on February 25 with a focus on creating safe spaces at school for all students.

He went on to state that ECASD is proud of its reputation for making all children feel welcome and safe in their classrooms.

Full statement from Eau Claire superintendent Michael Johnson:

“The Eau Claire Area School District has a responsibility to maintain an educational environment that is equitable, safe and inclusive of all students. As part of our ongoing work to support our students, our staff received training on February 25 with a focus on creating safe spaces at school for all students. Data shows that students who identify within the LGBTQIA+ community have a higher incidence of mental health issues along with a higher sense of isolation. For example, based on ECASD results from the most recent Wisconsin DPI Youth Risk Behavior Survey of high school students, 87% of LGBTQIA+ students report mental health concerns and just 44% have a sense of belonging compared to 46% and 68% for straight-cisgender students.

Our staff often find themselves in positions of trust with our students. The staff development presentation shared extensive data and information to assist our staff members in our ongoing efforts to create a safe and supportive learning environment for all students. The ECASD prides itself on being a school district that makes all students feel welcome and safe in our schools.”

Statement from Marquell Johnson, a current Eau Claire School Board member who is also seeking re-election:

“The overall intention of the particular professional development training in question was “Identity & Inclusion”. The underlining premise of such training is to assist educators in creating “safe spaces” for students to become the best version of themselves. When speaking with students and families that are undertaking this journey or who have experienced the topic of “Identity & Inclusion”, safe spaces for communication are paramount and the home environment may not always be considered a suitable “safe space”. I may have chosen different wording from what was included in “Slide 56” and further dialogue was provided for teachers on this particular slide. It is important that the school environment be considered an additional “safe space” for students to become the best version of themselves.”

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