Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel said Thursday there’s “absolutely no truth” to news and blogger accounts that his district is mandating that teachers replace the terms boys and girls with gender-neutral terms.
The district came under fire from conservatives after teacher-training materials prepared by an advocacy group and distributed at one school discouraged using terms like “boys & girls,” “you guys” and “ladies and gentlemen.”
Joel said the materials were obtained by members of a committee at Irving Middle School tasked with examining equity issues that might affect students.
Committee members shared the materials with staff for discussion and consideration, he said. The recommendations in the materials have not been adopted as district policy, he said.
However, he said that district officials will continue to look for ways to make every student feel comfortable.
“We have 39,000 students,” he said. “We want every single one of them to be successful. We don’t want any child ever to feel as if they don’t belong in our schools.”
Joel said he said he has no data on how many kids enrolled in his district identify themselves as other than a boy or girl.
“That’s not data that we would commonly collect,” he said. “We don’t ask.”
Russ Uhing, director of student services for the Lincoln district, said teachers and administrators have increasingly asked for help in how to deal with transgender kids.
The American Psychological Association defines transgender as an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.
Prior to this school year, the district provided staff with copies of some local and national news accounts about transgender kids to give them some background on the issue, Uhing said.
“We’ve got a lot of different types of students in our district, and this is a group that we are seeing more of, and our buildings are asking for more guidance, so that’s what we wanted to present,” he said.
Concerns about the materials at Irving Middle School were raised by parents, district officials said.
The materials included a one-page tip sheet titled “12 easy steps on the way to gender inclusiveness...” produced by an organization called Gender Spectrum.
The tip sheet encouraged teachers to avoid asking kids to line up as boys or girls or separating them by gender. Instead, teachers were encouraged to sort kids by odd or even birth date or other means such as whether they preferred skateboards or bikes, milk or juice, or dogs versus cats.
Instead of calling kids with phrases like “boys & girls” or “you guys,” the tip sheet said teachers could say “calling all readers,” “hey campers” or “could all of the athletes come here.” Students could be divided into groups assigned names. That way, for example, a teacher could ask “all of the ‘purple penguins’ to meet at the rug,” it said.
It suggested giving every student the opportunity to identify a preferred name or pronoun. It also said teachers should “be intolerant of openly hostile attitudes or references toward others” and to “point out and inquire when you hear others referencing gender in a binary manner.”
The materials also include information to help teachers distinguish between sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity and biological sex.
Joel said he’s proud of his teachers and administrators for being willing and open to gaining a better understanding of student needs.
“We’re doing the right thing,” he said.
Kids who feel like outsiders or unwelcome are often the ones to fall victim to bullying or suicide, he said.
“Some of the behaviors we’ve seen around the country that are so sad are manifested in this general feeling of I don’t belong,” he said. “And so what we want, when the doors open up and students come into our schools, they are valued and they feel like they belong, they’re not being intimidated.”
Teachers are going to be the conduit between the students’ ability to be successful and the issues that they bring into the classroom, he said.