School allegedly told teachers to ignore students’ preferred pronouns
A public school in Arizona allegedly told teachers to ignore the preferred pronouns of students and prevented students from forming an LGBT+ club or speaking about gender identity on school grounds.
Norterra Canyon is a public elementary and middle school in north Phoenix, governed by the Deer Valley Unified School District, which teaches children between the ages of five and 14.
Allegations that the school is a harmful environment for LGBT+ children have centred around the actions of Norterra Canyon principal Tish Mineer.
At the time of publication, three parents and several students have come forward with allegations that the school silenced discussion of LGBT+ topics.
According to Phoenix New Times, the first parent to come forward was Nina Cosiano who filed a complaint with state authorities this month after her daughter confided in her.
Cosiano also got in touch with Robert Chevaleau, the director of education and outreach at the Arizona Trans Youth and Parent Organization, who helped her with the compaint.
The Deer Valley Unified School District said it investigated Cosiano’s complaint but found that the allegations were “unsubstantiated”.
Cosiano’s 14-year-old daughter spoke out about her concerns at a school district board meeting, and said that neither she nor her LGBT+ classmates felt “safe” at the school.
The eighth grade student added: “That’s an issue because you’re supposed to feel safe at school, especially public school.”
She also spoke about her trans friend, who she said had suffered extreme stress because of Mineer’s refusal to refer to them with their chosen name and pronouns.
Her mother also told the board: “As an LGBTQ child once myself, and as a mother of an LGBTQ child, the behaviour demonstrated by Mineer and some of her staff is completely unacceptable. These students feel unsafe and unwelcome at their own school. They have been shamed and bullied and belittled.”
Another mother, this time of a seventh grade bisexual girl, told Phoenix New Times said her daughter asked to start an LGBT+ club to help combat homophobic and transphobic bullying at the school.
Principal Mineer reportedly told her that this was “unacceptable”, and one of the children involved in requesting the club said that were told by the assistant principal that such a club would negatively influence younger students.
A third parent told Phoenix New Times that she directly witness Mineer telling her seventh grade daughter that it was inappropriate to discuss sexual orientation at school.
Her daughter said: “We were talking about what we are. I have some bi friends, some gay friends, some transgender friends, and some pansexual friends. We were just talking about what we were, and that’s when they started yelling at us.”
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Monica Allread, director of communications and community engagement at the Deer Valley School District, told KPNX-TV that the allegations were unfounded and based on second-hand information.
However, Allread said that “the principal felt that a club specific only to LGBTQ issues wasn’t age-appropriate for a K-8 school”.
She also said that the school “did not and do not forbid students from having conversations about gender identity”, but added that “sexually explicit conversations where others can hear and/or conversations that are disruptive to the learning environment will be redirected”.
In terms of the allegations of teachers refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns, Allread said: “If we have a student who identifies as transgender, but their parent/guardian has clearly forbid us from using the student’s preferred name and/or preferred pronouns, we would follow the parent’s direction.”
Consistently using the correct name and pronouns for trans people can reduce their rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts to almost the same levels as their cisgender counterparts.
The school district’s non-discrimination policy does not mention sexual orientation or gender identity. It reads: “The Deer Valley Unified School District does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age in its programs and activities.”