Public School Teachers Say They Ignore Parents’ Requests for Students’ Names, Pronouns

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Public school teachers recently shared during a virtual conference that they ignore parents’ requests that they use students’ given names and pronouns in the classroom.

In a Zoom call in early April for the “Creating and Sustaining GSAs in Elementary Schools” conference, a panel was asked about how to approach conflicts with parents over students’ preferred pronouns and names when they differed from their sex and given names.

“What should we do if a parent requests that we refer to their child by the pronouns associated with their sex assigned at birth instead of their preferred pronouns, and that we use a legal name instead of a student’s chosen name?” moderator Kathy Butler, a teacher at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in San Francisco, asked the panel, reading from an anonymous question posed by another educator, The Daily Mail reported.

Kieran Slattery, a fifth-grade teacher at Jackson Street Elementary School in Massachusetts who was described by organizers as a “white, transgender man,” shared how to essentially ignore requests from parents.

“So, I can respond with something that I’ve done,” Slattery began. “This came up for me – it’s come up in a couple different ways – but it’s come up for me where caregivers asked.”

“I actually refer to their child’s name… using the name the name they asked to be referred to and their chosen pronouns, and caregivers reacted very strongly,” the educator recounted.

Slattery explained that the parents had “followed up with me and the principal, and said, like, ‘I know you were using a different name than my child’s given name at birth and the pronouns we gave them, and I’m respectfully asking that you use the name and the pronouns that we gave them.’”

The Northampton teacher went on to warn the other teachers that “the laws in every state are different, obviously, and I can’t speak to the laws in everyone’s particular state, but I will say – again, the resources that we’ll give you after this have some helpful sites where you can look up what the rules are for your state.”

“Before I responded to the caregiver, I made sure I ran it by my principal and my superintendent just to make sure that they had my back,” Slattery added.

“I hear you, I hear what you’re saying,” the parents were told, Slattery recounted. “I tried to really affirm what the caregiver was asking me, like in terms of, ‘I hear you saying that you’re feeling uncomfortable with me using the child’s preferred name and pronouns; I hear that you’re using different ones at home.”

“But here at school, the expectation is that all of my students feel comfortable and welcome in my classroom,” Slattery claimed to have told the parents. “So, in my classroom, I will refer to your child by whatever name and pronouns that they’ve told me they feel most comfortable with.”

The Mail noted that at this, the fellow panelists nodded in approval.

Slattery went on to describe how the principal and superintendent backed this design for an “affirming” classroom, adding that parents were placatingly told that they were free to “absolutely choose to do whatever you like at home,” all to the further approval of the other teachers on the panel.

New York 5th grade teacher Daniel Alonso shared a similar story.

“Similarly to what Kieran said,” Alonso explained, referring to Slattery, “in my school district, LGBTQ+ students have a bill of rights – and the fourth one is that they have the right to be referred to by their gender pronouns and a name that fits their gender identity.”

“And so, similarly, there was a situation where a parent felt that the school was not doing what they wanted them to do, and we – I don’t even know if we were respectful about it – we were just like, ‘No, sorry. Like, our district-wide rule is that the student determines that, not you,’ he said. The Mail noted this comment was given along with a “smug smile.”

“Even though you are the parents,” he added.

“Ours is the same – and again, it really speaks to where you’re working, where the district is, the state laws, and really having the backing of your administration, and your superintendent, and the a district that says, ‘This is our policy; – and I’m going to follow suit,” Maryland School Counselor Heather Eig added.

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