NJ School District's Policy Would Require Staffers to Out LGBTQ Students to Parents

The district lists sexual orientation, transitioning, gender identity or expression as reasons why a school staffer — whether it be a teacher, counselor, etc. — would be required to contact a student's parents

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Coming out as gay or struggling with gender identity can be one of the most intense and private things for young people. Now a New jersey school district may be taking their choice of who to tell or when right out of their hands.

The Hanover Township School District adopted board policy 8463 earlier in the week, which requires teachers and staff to notify parents and administrators of any circumstance they become aware of that could impact a students physical and mental health or social emotional well being.

There are more than two dozen possible examples listed, including substance or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, suicide, self-harm, gang affiliation and more. But none of those examples are getting people upset.

The district also lists sexual orientation, transitioning, gender identity or expression as reasons why a school staffer — whether it be a teacher, counselor, etc. — would be required to contact a student's parents. Among the complaints with the policy, some say it could out any LGBTQ+ students who have not yet told their parents about their sexual orientation.

The policy has also prompted the state attorney general's office to file a civil rights complaint calling the policy discriminatory and in violation of a law adopted in 2018 that requires schools to accept a student's gender identity without parental consent. The AG's office hopes the legal action will stop the policy before it is able to even start.

LGBTQ+ support groups, like the Edge Pride Center in Denville, say at very least the policy is an invasion of kids' privacy — adding that it's not just discriminatory, it's dangerous.

"It makes schools unsafe. It makes students not trust teachers," said Laurie Litt, CEO of the Edge Pride Center.

"Top two reasons for youth kids considering suicide are family rejections and bullying. This policy basically creates a pathway and invites both of those," said Edge Pride Center's Chief Operating Officer Joann McEniry.

A survey by the Trevor Project found that 2/3 of LGBTQ youth say current and proposed state policies have had a negative impact on their mental health. As the school year starts back for many students this month, LGBTQ students, face many challenges. Keygan Miller, the public training manager at the Trevor Project joins LX News to discuss these challenges and how schools and teachers can help.

Stephanie Egan has two children at Whippany Park High School, and said there are a lot of students who need the help of their teachers regarding such delicate matters.

"I know a few kids over there who did in fact have a difficult homelife and need to confide things in their teachers. I know children who are trans, children who are queer who didn't have an opportunity to speak to their parents about that, who went to teachers...and it takes away a safe haven that kids might need," said Egan.

A counselor at the school questioned the policy as well.

"Does hearsay or rumor count? What is the duty of the staff member to ensure that they have correct information?" the counselor asked during the school board meeting.

School boards need to see evidence of a problem before committing to action. So GLSEN conducted a survey with results showing 59% of LGBTQ students feel unsafe or unwelcome at their schools. GLSEN National Student Council member Aiden Cloud says that's a problem that needs to be addressed with better protections, particularly after several states passed laws that affect LGBTQ kids.

The school board said that the measure is about giving parents the information they need so that they can deal with any issue that thereby impacts their kids, and thereby support and properly care for them.

While one parent at the board meeting said he though the policy was "inclusive of all the parents and caring for the kids too," Egan said there is another agenda at foot.

"This is going after kids who are different from their kids. They really don't like anybody whose different from them and it's a shame. They’re bringing their political agenda into the schools it's really sad," she said.

The district superintendent did not return requests for comment. The vice president of the board said they could not address the policy because now it is in litigation.

In a statement, the district said in a statement that they will "vigorously defend this commonsense policy that protects parental rights and ensures the safety of all children.

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