Editorial Summary: Iowa


Des Moines Register. August 21, 2022.

Editorial: Iowa School District Strikes the Right Balance in Respecting the Rights of Trans Students

Parents’ right to know what is going on at school is important. The same goes for children’s right to be treated with respect for who they are.

A lawsuit in northeast Iowa claims parents know best, including when it comes to how their children’s gender identity is handled in school.

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Tradition and law provide a strong presumption that parents and guardians have the final say in most matters concerning their children. To give an extreme example, even in cases where it is apparent that a parent is unfit or even dangerous, Iowa has stringent procedures that must be followed to permanently remove children from a family.

So, yes, skepticism is in order when a school explicitly says that it will, in narrowly defined cases, overrule parents’ wishes and consciously keep them out of something. The rights of parents to know what is happening with their children and to participate in decisions are important.

But children’s rights are also important. They deserve to be treated according to who they are. They deserve — as a policy adopted this spring by the Linn-Mar School Board puts it — to be able to “discuss and openly express their gender identity and expression and decide when, with whom, and to what extent to share private information.” “.

Linn-Mar strikes the right balance. The federal courts are expected to uphold the commissioners’ judgment. And state and federal policymakers should follow their lead.

The lawsuit (embedded below), brought by the national organization Parents Defending Education on behalf of seven unidentified Linn-Mar parents, attacks the policy on two main grounds: that excluding parents from carrying out “plans gender support” is unconstitutional, and that requiring students and staff to use students’ preferred names and pronouns or face discipline violates their rights to free speech.

Some parents say in court documents they fear their children, some with special needs, will apply for a gender support plan while experiencing something other than gender dysphoria, or after observing their peers – and that the parents don’t find out for months, or years.

It could happen. Some clinicians argue that excluding parents is riskier than including them. But it’s unclear to what extent parental notification is safe or even likely to reliably produce more beneficial outcomes.

One of the goals of the policy is to help struggling students with a basic understanding of who they are that they will be accepted into school. Increasing the likelihood of a dismissive or disbelieving response, whether from staff or parents, threatens to undermine the well-being of these students.

Linn-Mar does not require that parents be excluded or that students be discouraged from involving them. Instead, he lets seventh graders or higher decide. The provision does not apply to young children.

The district trusts students to understand their family dynamics and recognizes that after a child’s discharge, parental rejection, and even violence, is a common and discouraging occurrence. Indeed, among the more than 400 pages of research, news articles and affidavits included in the parents’ lawsuit, there is an assertion by the conservative Education Reform Network that “it should be self-evident , but the best outcome is that children learn to embrace the body they were born with.

The attitude that transgender children would have – no doubt! – better to deny their identity, which is exactly why policies like this are created.

The question here is whether children can feel safe and accepted at school. Period. The Linn-Mar superintendent said the board primarily codifies practices the district has been using for years. Its policy considers names, pronouns, clothing, restroom use, sports participation, and student room allocation on overnight trips. It should not be confused with other important debates on topics such as medical treatments for transgender youth.

When it comes to the issue of the First Amendment, schools and courts have long struggled to balance strong speech rights with school safety and decorum. The editorial board reflexively favors allowing more speech – but it’s easy to imagine “free speech” in this context as a polite euphemism for bullying. Linn-Mar’s intention to criminalize intentional sexual abuse is appropriate.

A Sept. 6 hearing in federal court in Cedar Rapids will set up a judge to decide whether to temporarily restrain Linn-Mar from implementing its policy while the litigation continues. But disputes over these topics will continue regardless of the outcome.

Republicans in the Iowa Legislative Assembly set an unfortunate precedent this year by treating school sports as an inviolable bastion of high-level competition and banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports with their friends. They and Democrats and the Iowa Department of Education can do better by creating thoughtful policies that promote child safety and respect parents, without thoughtlessly bending to their interests.

The Department of Education, in particular, should expedite its review of advice to districts on transgender issues, which the Cedar Rapids Gazette says has led to this page on its website going blank for months.

Prioritizing the recognition and support of an individual’s identity is the right approach.

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