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.
Mesa Public Schools (MPS) appeared hesitant in a recent governing board meeting to discuss the secretive gender transition plan, which had been in place for years. Most parents were unaware of the plan until recently, which included an opt-out provision allowing the school to keep the plan secret from parents.
Governing board member Rachel Walden attempted to discuss this gender transition plan during Tuesday’s meeting. However, the district lawyer said that discussion of the plan constituted legal advice and would require the board to go into an executive session, out of the public’s view. The form’s promise of secrecy conflicted with Arizona’s parental rights laws.
“There is no other process that involves plans, paperwork for children without parental consent. But this issue can’t even provide parental notification?” asked Walden.
Walden clarified that, following discovery of the parental notification opt-out provision of the gender transition plan, MPS modified the form to strike the provision.
MPS has reportedly had the controversial gender transition plan since 2015. The original form asked students if their parents were aware and/or supportive of their gender transition. If either are answered in the negative, the form asks the student whether they give consent for the school to disclose their “transgender or gender nonconforming status” to their parents.
Arizona law states that parents have “a right to access and review all records relating to the minor child.”
The current version of the MPS gender transition plan looks virtually the same as the prior version, with the exception that parents or guardians will be notified of the plan if the student requests changes to Synergy, the online student information portal.
The MPS plan appears to be based on model documents. Chicago Public Schools issued a gender transition plan document with similar formatting and the same title.
Controversy over the gender transition plan surged last summer, after the district implemented new guidelines for handling transgender students. MPS defended its actions, arguing that their guidelines aligned with federal guidelines.
The guidelines included an assertion that students had the right to be addressed by their preferred names and pronouns, regardless of whether they had their name legally changed. MPS further declared that students should be allowed to use facilities intended for the opposite sex, such as restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, and single-sex classes.
Students also aren’t required to provide proof that they underwent any kind of medical treatment for gender transition as a condition of this special treatment.
“A transgender student is not required to provide verification that the student is undergoing or has undergone medical treatment for the purpose of gender transition as a condition for changing a student’s name and/or gender markers in the District’s records,” read the guidelines.
MPS also asserted that students must be allowed to participate in physical education activities and sports in accordance with their gender identity, though they could not compete in teams designated for the opposite sex in accordance with Arizona law.
Mesa Public Schools (MPS) ignored additional requests from our reporters to obtain data on how $32.3 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds were spent. In March, MPS toldAZ Free News that no records existed detailing how exactly those funds were spent.
Over a month ago, AZ Free News inquired about records for the chart of accounts related to Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding. There were three separate COVID-19 federal relief grants administered: ESSER I, coded under 326; ESSER II, coded under 336; and ESSER III, coded under 346.
We requested those records because the public ESSER report given by MPS in December didn’t offer an in-depth explanation. MPS attributed those tens of millions spent to a variety of ambiguous explanations: “other,” “etc,” “indirect costs,” and “COVID relief positions.”
When we asked for further information about the $32.3 million, MPS told us they couldn’t offer further explanation of those expenditures because they weren’t required by law to create records.
Of the over $4 billion Arizona received in ESSER funding, MPS received the second-largest allotment: around $229.2 million. Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) received the most in the state.
Last October, MPS reported that they had nearly $40 million remaining in their maintenance and operation funds.