Kansas Attorney General affirms that schools cannot conceal transgender students’ gender identities from their parents

Kansas’ attorney general has expressed concern over school policies that allow staff to “conceal” a student’s transgender or nonbinary identity, arguing that such policies infringe upon parental rights. It is important to note that Kansas does not currently have a law that mandates schools to disclose a student’s gender identity to their parents.

Attorney General Kris Kobach emphasized the significant and lasting medical and psychological consequences of a child transitioning their gender identity. In a statement released on Thursday, Kobach highlighted the importance for parents to be informed and involved in such a crucial aspect of their child’s well-being.

Kobach sent a letter early last year to six Kansas school districts, informing them that their policies of concealing a student’s transgender or gender-nonconforming status from parents violated parental rights.

According to a statement made by Kobach, two school districts, namely the Belle Plaine School District and Maize Unified School District, informed him that they had no intention of hiding students’ gender identities from their parents. However, four other school districts, including the Kansas City Kansas Unified School District, Olathe Unified School District, Shawnee Mission Unified School District, and Topeka Unified School District, refused to comply and maintained that school administrators have a better understanding than parents.

According to Kobach, certain districts have refuted the claims that their policies permit staff members to hide a student’s transgender identity from their parents. The Olathe school district, situated near Kansas City, reached out to Kobach to arrange a meeting. However, despite multiple attempts by the Attorney General’s staff, a meeting has yet to be scheduled.

In December, another letter was sent by Kobach to the four “holdout districts”, restating that their policies seem to infringe on parental rights. He then proceeded to ask them a series of questions regarding these policies. For instance, one of the questions he asked the Shawnee Mission school district was whether any teacher, administrator, or district employee has ever knowingly used a child’s birth name and pronouns associated with their biological sex when discussing the child with their parent or legal guardian, but used a different name or pronouns for the child at school or in other settings away from the parent or legal guardian.

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The Olathe school district made it clear in a statement on Thursday that they do not have an official policy on how staff should handle a student’s transgender status. The district emphasized that the policy criticized by Kobach in his December letter is actually an internal administrative guideline for staff to use on a case-by-case basis. It should be noted that this guideline has never been approved by the Board of Education.

The Olathe district expressed its commitment to working closely with families and students on an individual basis to provide them with the necessary support. They believe in the dedication of their staff to prioritize the best interests of families and students in every decision they make.

The district stated that they initially received a written communication from Kobach on December 11, 2023, and promptly responded to his letter on December 19, 2023.

The Olathe district has been in regular contact with the Attorney General’s office to arrange a meeting and address any misunderstandings or miscommunications regarding the matter. However, they were unable to meet with a representative from the attorney general’s office on Feb. 2. The district has also offered six additional meeting dates to facilitate discussion on the issue.

The Kansas City, Shawnee Mission, and Topeka districts have not yet responded to a request for comment.

In December, Superintendent Michelle Hubbard of the Shawnee Mission Unified School District responded strongly to Kobach’s letter, expressing her disappointment that he did not provide any concrete examples of parents’ rights violations caused by the district’s policy. She stated that his claims were based on “misinformation” from “partisan sources” and emphasized that students seldom try to hide information from their parents, as reported by The Associated Press.

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According to the AP, in the district’s response, she stated, “We are not caricatures from the polarized media, but rather real people who work very hard in the face of intense pressure on public schools.”

In his letter to the districts, Kobach references Parents Defending Education, a conservative organization that aims to reclaim schools from activists.

In December, Kobach wrote a letter to the Kansas Association of School Boards expressing his concerns about their potential involvement in promoting policies that sideline parents on this issue. Despite his request for clarification, the KASB chose not to provide any comment or confirmation regarding their involvement in drafting such policies.

Brian Jordan, the executive director of KASB, responded to Kobach’s statement in an email to NBC News. While he did not directly address Kobach’s statement, Jordan emphasized that Kansas schools hold a deep respect and value for the rights of parents, which have long been established.

“Effective collaboration and trust serve as the foundation for this partnership,” emphasized Jordan. “Locally elected school board members play a crucial role in setting policies and ensuring accountability for each school district. They possess the firsthand knowledge and understanding necessary to make informed decisions that best serve their respective communities.”

“This policy has the potential to unintentionally disclose the gender identity of transgender students, as well as students who are questioning or exploring their own gender, to their parents before they are prepared to discuss it,” Brace expressed. “We should refrain from enacting policies that effectively deny the existence of transgender children and adversely affect their emotional well-being on a daily basis. Instead, we should allow them to simply be kids who are engaged in the process of learning, maturing, and discovering their authentic selves, which is the essence of a school environment.”

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According to the LGBTQ think tank, Movement Advancement Project, there are currently five states that have laws requiring the disclosure of transgender youth in schools: Alabama, Iowa, Indiana, North Carolina, and North Dakota. Additionally, there are six other states that have laws that encourage but do not enforce such disclosures. It is important to note that Kansas is not included in either of these categories. In fact, the state’s Legislature was unsuccessful in passing a bill last year that would have prohibited school staff from using a student’s assigned name or pronouns different from those given at birth.

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