Bill would force schools to tell parents about students’ pronouns, gender identities

A top GOP lawmaker buried the language in a broader education bill

By: - January 18, 2023 7:00 am

A new Indiana bill would require schools to notify parents when students express concerns or beliefs related to gender identity. (Getty Images)

A bill filed by a top Republican lawmaker would require schools to inform parents if students request to change their names or pronouns, or generally express questions about their gender identity.

Buried in proposed school accreditation legislation authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, is a provision that mandates teachers and school employees to report to the school if a student indicates that they want to change their “name, attire, pronoun, title, or word to identify the student in a manner that is inconsistent with the student’s biological sex at birth.”

School employees would also have to report if a student expresses having “conflicted feelings about … or difficulty handling or coping with” their gender identity or gender expression. 

The student’s parents must be notified with that information within five days, according to the bill.

Raatz, who chairs the Senate education committee, declined an interview request from the Indiana Capital Chronicle on Tuesday but said in a written statement that “parents should know if their child is struggling and shouldn’t be kept from the situation.”

“Senate Bill 354 simply requires school districts to notify a parent if their child has expressed conflicted feelings with gender identity or expression, as well as if the student asks to change their name, attire or title to one inconsistent with their biological sex at birth,” Raatz said.

Raatz bill could force schools to “out” students

Raatz’s bill specifically instructs schools to notify parents if the student “discloses” their feelings or preferences to a school employee or staff member. The bill states that such disclosure is only required for students who are under age 18 and unemancipated, however. It also does not make clear what a “disclosure” made by a student does or does not include.

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The bill is additionally void of details about how school employees are supposed to report the student disclosure to the school. The measure simply states that employees should make the report “in a manner prescribed by the school.” 

The bill says that school psychologists, nurses, social workers and counselors are not required “to violate a federal law or regulation.” It does not carve out consequences for school employees who refuse to comply with the bill’s provisions.

Raatz’s bill comes amid a nationwide wave of proposals that intend to ensure parents have the right to determine the names and pronouns used for their child at school, or direct educators to disclose a student’s gender identity to their parents.

Some school districts across the country — including in Maryland and Virginia — specifically bar teachers from “outing” transgender students to parents, in part to safeguard students against parents who may not be supportive of their child’s gender identity or transition.

But draft legislation in several states is seeking to end that practice. Parents in multiple states are also filing lawsuits against school districts for refusing to disclose a child’s gender identity. Many of the court filings are spearheaded by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocate representing Christian conservative issues.

Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond (Courtesy Indiana Senate Republicans)

The group argues that schools “have a responsibility to keep parents informed” and that “they cannot hide information about a child’s mental or physical well-being from their parents.” That means schools “must tell parents if their child identifies as the opposite sex or requests a name or pronoun change,” according to an ADF blog post.

Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, who has previously referred to the ADF as “a national hate group,” said Raatz’s bill increasingly leads LGBTQ students “to believe that they’re not welcome here.”

“Why is this necessary? That doesn’t even rise to be put on our radar,” Ford said. “Personally, I think this is just part of continuous culture war attacks on the LGBTQ+ community that we have seen all across this nation.”

Ford pointed to state health department reports which show that student suicide is the leading cause of death for Hoosiers aged 10 to 14 and the second leading cause for those aged 15 to 17. 

He said those statistics should steer lawmakers to focus on addressing student mental health needs — not making kids’ lives more difficult. One of Ford’s own bills filed this session would carve out excused absences for students for addressing mental and behavioral health concerns, as well as statewide suicide prevention training fro students.

“We must do something about this,” Ford said. “I don’t know what it’ll take for us to actually get serious about addressing this problem, but as long as I’m here, I’m going to push that this is something that needs our attention.”

Other gender identity bills filed in Indiana

Multiple other bills addressing gender identity have been filed by state lawmakers, building on contentious debate over such issues in the 2022 legislative session.

Last year, lawmakers passed a controversial bill authored by Rep. Michelle Davis, R-Greenwood, which blocks transgender girls from playing on K-12 girl’s school sports teams. Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed the bill, but legislators voted to override that veto.

The ban has since been put on-hold for Indianapolis Public Schools after a federal judge in July issued a preliminary injunction in favor of a transgender girl who would be blocked from playing girls’ sports under the state’s new ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sued the school district on behalf of the 10-year-old student who said she would no longer be able to play softball on her school’s all-girls’ softball team.

Sen. J.D. Ford (Photo by Monroe Bush for Indiana Capital Chronicle)

The ACLU of Indiana is now pushing back against new bills, saying the Indiana General Assembly “has launched an unprecedented attack on LGBTQ Hoosiers.” The organization emphasized, too, that a number of the bills introduced “represent a coordinated, hate-driven campaign to push trans people, particularly trans youth, out of public life.”

The contentious bills up for debate this year include one filed by Davis that seeks to prohibit medical professionals from providing gender transitioning or puberty blocking procedures to minors — even with parental consent.

Another draft measure, authored by Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, stipulates that a child could not be removed from their parents’ custody if the parent refuses procedures or therapies that “affirm the child’s perception of the child’s gender or sex if the child’s perception is inconsistent with the child’s biological sex.” That includes a ban on puberty blocking drugs and both nongenital gender reassignment and gender reassignment surgeries.

A different bill filed by Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper, would bar state schools — including colleges and universities — from requiring students “to engage in any form of mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling.”

Ford, on the other hand, filed legislation that would extend anti-discrimination protections at schools to students based on their gender identity and sexuality. 

Sexual orientation and gender identity would be added to existing Indiana law that prohibits discrimination in public schools. Currently, state law includes disability, race, color, gender, national origin, religion, and ancestry.

The bill would prohibit segregation based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and ban schools from denying students admission on those bases. Ford said it would also prohibit discrimination when hiring teachers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Despite earlier indications from the state’s top GOP lawmakers that they would draft a “Don’t Say Gay” bill — similar to the one that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last year — but no such bills have yet been made public on the state website. 

Language to ban Indiana teachers from holding classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity could still be amended into other bills later in the legislative session, however.

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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Smith has had internships and fellowships at the Investigative Program in Berkeley, California, The Indianapolis Star, the Investigative Reporting Workshop in Washington, D.C., The Washington Post, National Geographic, USA Today and other publications. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.

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