Proposed gender policy sparks debate

Several Oak Harbor parents voiced their opinions on a proposed policy revision.

Several Oak Harbor parents voiced their opinions on a proposed policy revision that would allow counselors to tell parents that their child is transgender, even if the student does not want them to.

Members of the Oak Harbor School Board didn’t make any decisions during the Monday night meeting, but heard from residents with strong opinions.

The proposed policy change was first discussed in the board meeting on July 25. Under the proposal, counselors would have to first determine that the student wouldn’t face danger at home before notifying parents.

The current policy states school counselors must honor students’ wishes regarding family involvement in matters of gender identity and expression.

Most of the people who spoke were in favor of the policy change. Some said withholding such important information from parents was upsetting and that parents know what is best for their children. Others were concerned they could not properly support their children in dealing with gender identity changes if they were in the dark.

“The policy only protects a small number of students while it rips apart the trust between parents and children, parents and teachers, parents and the school board,” parent Stephanie Lugo said.

Two audience members in favor of the change said that people who identify as transgender can change their minds later in life.

Jessica Thompson, who previously ran for the Oak Harbor School Board, said that teens often want to keep things secret from their parents, not because of the threat of abuse, but simply to avoid “being held accountable” or being lectured.

“Keeping things of this nature from parents strips children of their family’s protection,” she said, “and we as parents must indeed protect them from ideologies turning children against parents who advocate against puberty blockers and transitional surgeries.”

Steven Adams, a parent, said that there was a larger problem with age-appropriate sexual education in the district.

Fe Mischo spoke at the meeting on the behalf of PFLAG Whidbey Island, a LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, and as a parent of a trans child. She said while she understood why parents wanted the policy change, counselors cannot know for sure that a child is living in a safe home.

“I can vouch that not all households are what they seem,” Mischo said.

She encouraged people to visit for resources for families of LGBTQ+ people.

Board members thanked parents for the comments they received on the proposed policy change, both during public comment and via email.

Board member Bob Hallahan said avoiding difficult conversations trades short-term discomfort for long-term dysfunction.

“I hesitate to build an expectation among students that they can maintain a gender at school that is different than the one they have at home,” he said, but also acknowledged that some parents may be hostile to a child’s gender identity change.

Hallahan and School Board President Jessica Aws both encouraged parents to continue to voice their opinions on this policy in the coming weeks. Aws said that the primary goal for the school district was to protect and provide a safe place for students to receive an education.

“This is something we have to really carefully consider and we really appreciate all your feedback,” she said.