On rare occasion do Alaska public school educators openly air a distain for conservative parents, religious values or traditional views of morality and human sexuality. The nearly 400 pages of public testimony submitted on House Bill 105, however, provides a unique insight into the thinking of many school administrators, teachers, nurses and counselors when it comes to parental involvement surrounding issues like sex education and gender identity in Alaska’s schools.
Proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, HB 105 would bar public schools from hiding a child’s sexual identity or health records from parents, while requiring parental permission before educators discuss any sexual matters with students. It also requires schools to separate locker rooms and restrooms according to biological sex at birth.
The Watchman reviewed the voluminous testimony for and against the bill. While most letter writers did not reveal whether they worked in schools, 21 testifiers did openly identify themselves as Alaska educators who adamantly opposed HB 105. Many of their comments exhibit a deep-seated mistrust of parents, especially those who ascribe to socially conservative or religious values.
Below is a summary of these comments as they relate to parents, parental rights, sex education and the belief that schools have a right to hide the LGBTQ identity of children from their parents.
“Do I have to worry when I’m trying to teach kids something important – that I’m going to end up in trouble for talking about sex?”– Lathrop High School teacher
— Cordova Jr./Sr. High School Counselor Debra Adams expressed support for the idea that sex is a “an internal sense of being male, female or something else, which may not correspond to an individual’s sex assigned at birth or sex characteristics.” She added, “The classroom should be a place of acceptance, not a gender policing state.””
— School counselor, Kristan Kelly, claimed the bill was “ridiculous.” “I am a school counselor and know the damage this bill, if passed, would cause,” she alleged, before stating the parental rights bill would take away “the only safe place for a lot of kids.”
— Kami Webster, who said she and her husband teach in Unalakleet, maintained that requiring schools to communicate to parents about a child’s gender identity would “put kids in potentially dangerous situations and gets rid of their bodily autonomy.” She added argued that “being trans or non-binary isn’t self damaging,” but that parental response to this “might be.”
— Sitka School District educator Adriana Bryan said the bill could threaten a child’s “safe place” at school and cause harm to them in a “threatening environment at home.”
— Michele Robinson, who teaches yoga, health and literature at Lathrop High School, said she opposed a provision in the bill that requires parental permission before schools can teach sexual topics to children. “We have a VERY difficult time getting a certain number of parents to respond to email or etc.,” she claimed. “There are just too many students who do not, for whatever reason, have parents who respond to letters, emails or notes sent home.” She lamented that HB 105 would prevent her from talking to kids about sex. “There are many parents who do NOT educate their kids this way,” she said. “Kids NEED this education, and we cannot allow it to be neglected.” Robinson then expressed worry that the bill might get her in trouble. “Do I have to worry when I’m trying to teach kids something important – that I’m going to end up in trouble for talking about sex?”
A Cordova teacher claimed that mandatory sex ed should be required of all students. “This shouldn’t be a decision individual parents are allowed to make,” she said.
— Third grade teacher Kathryn Ritter, who works at Sayéik Gastineau School in Juneau, said the bill would “drive a wedge between families, students and teachers.” “Students are entitled to express their identity separate from their families consent, and I believe that if parents are at odds with their children about their child’s gender identity, the child will lose trust with their teachers if the teachers are not permitted to honor the child’s request to choose their pronouns,” she wrote. Ultimately, she claimed the bill undermines a teachers ability to “mentor or guide the child” as they deem best.
— Teacher assistant Raven Amos wrote a letter arguing that the bill hinders students’ ability to “live as their authentic selves.” She said the bill harms kids by “requiring teachers to ‘out’ their students to their parents.” Amos then attacked what she coined “so-called ‘Christian parenting’” which she blasted as “indoctrination.”
— Cordova teacher Emily Moody called the bill “disgraceful.” “We don’t let parents pick and choose what classes they get to teach their kids,” she said. “Sex education is a human right.” “I do not believe as a parent that another parent has the right to deny their child access to good quality sex education,” Moody added. “We have no way of knowing what a parent’s idea of sex ed is, if they have any training, or if they were even taught sex ed themselves.” She claimed that mandatory sex ed should be required of all students. “This shouldn’t be a decision individual parents are allowed to make,” Moody concluded.
A Fairbanks educator complained that the bill would “limit the rights and protections of LGBTQ+ students, including those related to school policies and bathroom/locker access.”
— Patty Brown, who said she was a 22-year public school teacher in Alaska, said the bill would hinder schools ability to teach sex education to kids or hide their gender identity from parents. “A state law requiring a certain penalty to punish teachers and schools who honor a child’s request against the will of a parent is far too heavy handed,” Brown wrote. She added that a school is a “community for children,” and suggested that perhaps parents needed to be educated about the “spectrum of gender and sexual orientation … They are not going away.”
— Public school teacher Jennifer Marschke opposed the bill because it makes it more difficult to introduce sexual topics to children.
— Betsy Turner-Bogren, a 15-year volunteer educator in Fairbanks elementary, middle and high schools, said the bill would “limit the rights and protections of LGBTQ+ students, including those related to school policies and bathroom/locker access.” She urged lawmakers to pass requirements for “inclusive sex education” along with more programs and services for kids who self-identify as LGBTQ.
— Summer Koester, who teaches at Montessori Borealis Pre-K through 8th grade school in Juneau, opposed the bill based on her belief that “many trans children do not feel safe disclosing their true identity with their families.” She said, “I believe it should be the child’s choice to make the decision how they identify and teachers should respect that choice … this bill endangers children. Full stop.”
— Educator Denise Cotton opposed the bill as “harmful for LGBTQ+ youth.” She said it “would cause potential danger in their homes as, unfortunately, not all LGBTQ+ youth have supportive parents or guardians.”
A school nurse claimed the bill is all about “reinforcing a narrow white, conservative, Christian, heterosexual model of what is ‘normal.’”
— School psychologist Lori Crupi worried that the bill might make it harder to provide sexual education to young children – below 4th grade. “In my work in secondary schools, I am finding many students who are choosing to use they/them pronouns as they navigate peer relationships and develop as people,” she wrote. “While this didn’t happen when I was young, after meeting many students who prefer to use they/them, it doesn’t seem particularly scary.” Crupi said she worried that HB 105 would interfere with her ability to “establish trust” with students and use their “preferred nicknames.” She added, “There should be no opportunities for parents to file civil action against school personnel who refer to a student by their preferred name or pronoun.”
— Amy Gallaway, who teaches civics at West Valley High School in Fairbanks, said requiring parental permission to change a student’s pronouns would “render most classrooms a bureaucracy of permission slips.” Furthermore, she claimed HB 105 “attacks” LGBTQ kids.
— PeggyEllen Kleinleder, who worked as a school nurse, believes the bill is all about “reinforcing a narrow white, conservative, Christian, heterosexual model of what is ‘normal.’”
— Anchorage substitute teacher Kathleen Dunning called the bill a “blatant attack on LGBTQIA2S+ youth and their civil liberties,” because it would require educators to notify parents about gender identity changes in their child. She also blasted the provision requiring that bathrooms be designated by biological sex.
— High school educator LA Piper, who has worked in Anchorage, Lower Yukon, Haines and the Mat-Su, said the “last thing these teens need is another barrier placed in front of them telling them they are wrong” when it comes to what gender they identify with.
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— Educator Deborah Rinio argued against the bill based on the belief that kids should be allowed to choose their own identities. She added that the parental rights legislation would “restrict teachers ability to engage fully with the curriculum.”
— Melanie Hadaway, a former 20-year teacher who recently retired as the Director of Teaching and Learning for the Fairbanks School District, criticized the bill for requiring parental permission before schools use gender-fluid names or pronouns to address students. “And sadly, the reason student’s don’t want their parents to know is because the type of parent who would utilize the right to pursue legal action against a school district if the parent’s rights have been violated are often the parents who would react badly to their child’s use of a different pronoun,” she said. “What this language does is appease a small percentage of parents who want their personal beliefs to dictate the safety and identity of all students.” Hadaway then attacked the provision that would designate restrooms and locker rooms according to biological sex, saying the idea is “harmful” to students.
— Retired teacher Mary Burtness, of Fairbanks, ridiculed the parental rights bill for pandering to those who believe they are “morally right to push their ‘religious’ agenda on all students.” Like many other educators, she suggests that the legislation would “harm a vulnerable portion of the school population.”