LINCOLN, Neb.—A middle school employee gave teachers training documents advising them not to use “gendered expressions” by calling students “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen,” but to instead use more generic expressions such as campers, readers, athletes or even purple penguins to be more “gender inclusive.”
A handout called “12 easy steps on the way to gender inclusiveness” advised teachers to avoid separating students by gender, but instead by birth dates or preferences. For example, they could ask students whether they prefer skateboards or bikes, milk or juice, dogs or cats, summer or winter.
“Always ask yourself, ‘Will this configuration create a gendered space?’” said step 1 of the handout.
Or they could “Create classroom names and then ask all of the ‘purple penguins’ to meet at the rug,” the handout said.
Step 5: “When you find it necessary to reference gender, say ‘boy, girl, both or neither,” the handout said. “When asked why, use this as a teachable moment. Emphasize to students that your classroom recognizes and celebrates the gender diversity of all students.”
Step 7: “Look for examples in the media that reinforce gender stereotypes or binary models of gender (it won’t be hard; they’re everywhere). When with others, call it out and interrogate it.”
Step 10: “Avoid using ‘normal’ to define any behaviors.”
Lincoln Superintendent Steve Joel told KLIN Radio this week he was “happy” and “pleased” with the training materials because the school district needs to be inclusive and educate and understand all children and address bullying.
“We don’t get involved with politics,” he said. “We don’t get involved with gender preferences. We’re educating all kids … and we can’t be judgmental.”
Al Riskowski, executive director of the conservative Nebraska Family Alliance, said his group has supported legislation to combat bullying, but the training materials go “way beyond trying to teach someone how to respect another individual” or understand gender identification or sexual orientation to a “whole new idea of boy-girl.”
Riskowski said the idea “your biology at birth doesn’t designate who you are,” but instead you’re on a “gender spectrum” is at odds with the beliefs of “almost everyone in the community.”
Irving Principal Susette Taylor told the Lincoln Journal Star she held a staff session on the issue, and the handouts were given out by a staffer on a “district equity team.” She said they were meant for teachers, not students or parents, and were suggestions, not rules, on how to make students feel comfortable.