Mesa Public Schools Leaves Out Parents

Mesa Public Schools Leaves Out Parents

By Rachel Walden |

Many are surprised to learn that Mesa Public Schools (Unified District #4) has had a co-ed option for restrooms, locker rooms, and overnight facilities since 2015. The district leadership at the time quietly developed a Transgender Support Plan for children. This includes choosing which facilities the child wants to use along with a new name and new pronouns. This plan involves no parental consent or parental notification.

Due to public comment and internal questions, Board President Hutchinson, under the guidance of Superintendent Fourlis, asked for a legal opinion from the Board’s counsel, Udall Shumway. A brief memo was placed on the agenda for the meeting May 9, 2023, and Udall Shumway determined that the Transgender Guidelines stand.

In the meeting I asked about the criteria for a child to be placed on this plan. Kacey King, the district’s counsel said, “for younger children a teacher or counselor might suggest that they put it into writing.” I was shocked at this statement. This is absolutely not the role of teachers or counselors. I have been told that school counselors are simply there to determine what barriers exist that may prohibit classroom learning. 

To have a counselor or teacher help put a child on a Transgender Support Plan is simply wrong, particularly without any communication with the parents. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that parents possess the fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, and health care of their children. This right does not belong to any school or staff. Public school offers a service to the community—a service to teach children the academic standards to prepare them for a future to be able to be confident and self-reliant adults. Schools need to stay in their lane if they are going to retain public trust. 

Opportunities exist for children to develop personal relationships with counselors and without parental consent. In one such example, the district had an elementary school student who was struggling in math. She would ask to see the counselor during the math lesson. Her mother was never notified because they weren’t official counseling sessions. The mother eventually found out when she confronted the school about her daughter’s below average math performance. No one previously told her that her daughter was behind in math or that she was visiting with a counselor.

Counselors may also have informal visits with children who don’t want to go to lunch or recess with their classmates and decide to visit with a counselor instead. Perhaps a child opens up about personal struggles, then the option exists for that trusted authority figure to guide the child to complete a private Transgender Support Plan. How would the parents know?

There is no other program or plan in the district that is comparable in secrecy or purpose to the Transgender Support Plan. Specialized learning plans, after school clubs, field trips, photographs, all require parental consent. Yet, a student can be given a new identity, and no one will notify the parents? 

The main legal justification for these guidelines right now stems from the 9th Circuit case Parents for Privacy v Barr. The court ruled against parental rights, ruled against freedom of religion, and ruled against privacy. I have spoken to attorneys who believe this ruling will be overturned. In the meantime, one of the best courses of action is to make sure our parents are informed. There is no legal argument against notifying parents about a child discussing “gender identity” or any other such topics at school. In fact, the law is on the side of the parents. I will continue this fight for parental rights and transparency.

Rachel Walden is a member of the Mesa Public Schools Governing Board. You can follow her on Twitter here.