TANGIPAHOA PARISH, La. (KPEL News) - A south Louisiana school system has implemented a district-wide policy that suggests schools can hide the gender identities of students from their parents in certain situations.

Parents Defending Education (PDE), a parental rights group, sought information on the Tangipahoa Parish School System's policies regarding trans students through a Freedom of Information Act request. What they got from the district was a set of documents that explained the policy.

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One of the documents, which was titled “Guidance for LGBTQ Youth” was dated October 12, 2020.

"If the student remains concerned about informing his or her parents," the district policy states, "you should explore the basis for the student’s concern, and determine whether the concern triggers any child abuse reporting obligations."

Credit: TPSS Website
Tangipahoa Parish School Board Members (Credit: TPSS Website)

That language is in line with the National School Board Association's (NSBA) official guidance.

Another document, titled “Transgender Students in Schools,” also appears to originate from NSBA guidance from 2016. That document suggests that, because of a child's worries about their parents' reaction, it is okay to withhold the child's transgender status from parents.

Given the unsettled state of the law, you may choose to direct school staff who are unsure whether the parents are aware of the student’s transgender status to refrain from incautious disclosure of a student’s transgender status. It may be wise to advise staff to limit discussions of a student’s transgender status to situations where there is a legitimate or compelling need to do so, for example to address school records, use of facilities, health concerns, safety issues, including bullying or harassment, and where there is a legal duty to inform parents about their child’s situation.

PDE Speaks Out About Tangipahoa Parish

The district's policies also encourage schools to use a child's preferred pronouns rather than the ones designating their biological sex. According to PDE, these policies directly interfere with the parent-child relationship and the role of parents in their kids' lives.

“These guidelines and parental exclusion policies reveal they’re not only openly violating our constitutional right to be involved in crucial aspects of our children’s lives and education but sowing further distrust in the public school system," Mailyn Salabarria, Director of Community Engagement for Parents Defending Education, told KPEL News. "Just imagine if Tangipahoa Parish School System focused instead on collaborating with parents and community stakeholders to address the fact that only 29 percent of their students are proficient in reading and barely 18 percent can do math at grade level. These are appalling statistics that should refocus the school system’s priorities and resources.”

The organization also accused TPSS of "deceiving parents" with these kinds of policies.

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"There is no justification for deliberately deceiving parents," said Erika Sanzi, Director of Outreach for Parents Defending Education. "Facilitating a student's gender transition at school is a psychosocial intervention and it should never happen without the knowledge and consent of the child's parents."

PDE has grown as a grassroots organization whose aim is to push back against school systems they say push "deep social change" in schools. Among those battles are fights to stop school systems from hiding information like a child's gender transition from parents.

TPSS Policies Under the Microscope

It's not the first policy issue the school board is facing. Over the summer, community backlash forced the district to reverse course on a skirt ban it had wanted to implement for this school year.

Some parents and students slammed the policy, with some saying it was excessively strict and others arguing it infringed on families' religious freedoms. The board unanimously voted to send the plan back to the policy committee for further review.

The school system's current dress code requires that skirts must be knee-length. Board members said the attempted ban came after school administrators complained that students were not complying and wearing shorter skirts.

One school board member said in response to the outcry over the skirt ban, "If we put that much energy into grades, we’d have a system of 4.0 students."

The system currently has a "C" grade, according to the state's Department of Education.

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