Arkansas lawmakers delivered a clear message to parents of K-12 students this week: You have the right to know how your child is being treated in school.
Lawmakers in New Jersey, California, and hundreds of other school districts across the U.S. operating under policies that do the opposite and allow school officials to hide information about children from their parents should prepare to receive an influx of student-transfer requests.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday signed legislation, the Given Name Act, which says that school officials cannot call a student by a name that does not match the name listed on the student’s birth certificate without a parent’s permission. Likewise, educators cannot address a child by a pronoun that does not match the child’s sex.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Wayne Long, a Republican, explains that a teacher contacted him and said her conscience would not let her “affirm” a student confused about his or her sex. “This single mom was willing to lose her job rather than go against her Christian beliefs,” Long said via email.
That teacher is not alone.
A survey in March commissioned by Parents Defending Education found that 71% of voters favor legislation that requires schools to inform parents when their child wants to “assume” a different “gender” at school. A survey conducted for The Heritage Foundation in 2021 found nearly identical results among a nationally representative sample of parents. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
And lawmakers are responding.
In Kentucky, officials adopted a proposal earlier this year that said schools “shall not adopt policies or procedures with the intent of keeping any student information confidential from parents,” and state and school personnel cannot require educators to use pronouns that “do not conform to a student’s biological sex” as listed on his or her birth certificate. Utah lawmakers adopted a similar proposal this year, and legislators in Arizona, California, Florida, and Louisiana are currently considering proposals with those provisions.
State lawmakers must protect parents because some education bureaucrats are actively interfering with parents’ rights as their child’s primary caregivers. In New Jersey, the state Department of Education has a policy saying “a school district shall accept a student’s asserted gender identity; parental consent is not required.” The California Department of Education also says school officials can hide a student’s confusion over his or her sex from parents.
Parents Defending Education maintains a list that now identifies 206 districts and more than 9,000 schools operating with those policies.
Such secrecy can be life-threatening to young children. When a child is struggling to understand his or her sex, those feelings are often accompanied by—or even preceded by—anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. To make matters worse, research finds that medical interventions such as hormone treatments, puberty blockers, and surgery that interferes with vital organ functions do not improve patients’ mental health.
That means that when teachers and school officials socially affirm children who want to act like someone of the opposite sex, that encourages students to continue to seek positive feedback instead of treating the underlying causes of their confusion. In fact, research suggests that social transition is “an active mental-health intervention that poses serious risks for children and adolescents.”
Those feelings are serious and should be met with empathy and compassion. Parents must be a part of those conversations.
In no other examples of medical or psychological conditions do adults simply accept a minor child’s self-diagnoses as the final word.
The human brain does not finish its growth and maturation until a person is in his or her 20s. Every parent knows that children and even teenagers will swing from one set of emotions and feelings to another, sometimes on the same day or even within the same hour.
Hormone treatments and other medical interventions that alter the body’s natural growth processes and stall sexual development can lead to unalterable changes. Some of those interventions lead to sterility, among other harmful outcomes. K-12 school officials are in no position to allow a child to proceed with those processes without notifying parents.
The Heritage Foundation designed its “Given Name Act” model bill to deal with those very issues.
The more we learn about the dangers of so-called gender treatments, and the more we discover the lengths to which school officials will go to keep secrets from parents, the more urgent it becomes for lawmakers to act quickly to protect students and families.
The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.
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