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Kansas AG says schools can’t hide trans kids’ gender identities from parents

Kansas’ attorney general said school policies allowing staff to “conceal” a student’s transgender or nonbinary identity violate parental rights, even though Kansas does not have a law mandating that schools disclose a student’s gender identity to their parents.

“A child changing his or her gender identity has major long-term medical and psychological ramifications,” Attorney General Kris Kobach said in a statement Thursday. “Parents should know, and have an opportunity to be involved in, such an important aspect of their well-being.”

Kobach’s statement follows a letter he said he sent early last year to six Kansas school districts to inform them that their policies allowing school staff to conceal a student’s transgender or gender-nonconforming status from parents violated parental rights. 

Two of the districts, the Belle Plaine School District and Maize Unified School District, told Kobach at the time that they did not intend to conceal students’ gender identities from parents, according to Kobach’s statement. However, four other school districts — the Kansas City Kansas Unified School District, Olathe Unified School District, Shawnee Mission Unified School District and Topeka Unified School District — ”dug in their heels and essentially asserted that school administrators know better than parents,” Kobach stated. 

Kobach said some of the districts denied that their policies allowed staff to conceal a student’s transgender status from parents. The Olathe school district, located just outside Kansas City, requested a meeting with Kobach, “but despite repeated attempts by the Attorney General’s staff, no such meeting has been scheduled,” Kobach said.

In December, Kobach sent another letter to the four “holdout districts” in which he reiterated that their policies appear to violate parental rights and asked them a series of questions about the policies. For example, Kobach asked the Shawnee Mission school district, “Has any teacher, administrator, or other [district] employee ever knowingly used the birth name and biological-sex-associated pronouns of a child when discussing that child with his/her parent or legal guardian, but used a different name or set of pronouns for the child at school or otherwise away from that parent or legal guardian?”

The Olathe school district said in a statement Thursday that it doesn’t have a formal policy regarding how staff should handle a student’s transgender status and such a policy has never been approved by the Board of Education. The policy Kobach criticized in his December letter, the district said, is part of “internal administrative guidelines” for staff to use on a case-by-case basis.

“As a district, it is always our intent and practice to work directly and partner with individual families and students as situations arise to ensure we are providing the appropriate and necessary support,” the Olathe district said. “We trust our staff to put the best interests of families and students at the heart of every decision.”

The district added that it first received written communication from Kobach on Dec. 11, 2023, and that it responded to that letter on Dec. 19, 2023. 

“Since then, the district has been in regular contact with the Attorney General’s office to schedule a time to meet and discuss any misinterpretations and/or miscommunications that the Attorney General’s office has regarding the matter,” the Olathe district said, adding that it was unable to meet with a representative from the attorney general’s office on Feb. 2, and that it offered six additional meeting dates.

The Kansas City, Shawnee Mission and Topeka districts did not immediately return a request for comment. 

However, in December, Superintendent Michelle Hubbard of the Shawnee Mission Unified School District issued a strongly worded response to Kobach’s letter and criticized him for not citing actual examples of parents’ rights being violated by the district’s policy. She said he relied on “misinformation” from “partisan sources” and said students rarely seek to conceal information from their parents, The Associated Press reported

“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,” she said in the district’s response, according to the AP. 

Kobach’s letter to the districts, for example, cites an organization called Parents Defending Education, a conservative group “working to reclaim our schools from activists.”

Kobach also sent a December letter to the Kansas Association of School Boards “based on evidence that KASB may have been involved in promoting policies that push parents out of the way on this issue,” he wrote in his Thursday statement. He said KASB declined to comment on whether it had been involved in drafting such policies, and either confirm or deny that it had been involved in drafting such policies. 

In an emailed statement to NBC News, Brian Jordan, KASB’s executive director, didn’t directly address Kobach’s statement, but he said Kansas schools “respect and value the rights of parents, which are well established.”

“Open lines of communication and trust are essential in this partnership,” Jordan said. “Each school district depends on locally elected school board members to establish policies and provide accountability. These people are in the best position to make decisions for their local communities.”

Justin Brace, the executive director of Transgender Heartland, a Kansas-based trans rights group, said Kobach’s latest statement is “yet another overreach trying to erase trans people from existence in Kansas.” 

“This policy would unnecessarily out transgender students, and students questioning or exploring their gender to their parents before they are ready to talk about it,” Brace said. “We need to stop trying to pass policies that erase trans kids from existence, and directly impact their mental health everyday instead of letting them simply exist as kids who are learning, growing, and becoming themselves, which is what school is all about.”

Five states have laws forcing the outing of transgender youth in schools — Alabama, Iowa, Indiana, North Carolina and North Dakota — and six additional states have laws promoting, though not mandating, such outings, according to Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank. Kansas is not among these states. The state’s Legislature failed to pass a bill last year that would’ve barred school staff from using a different name or pronouns for a student than those they were assigned at birth.

Kobach’s statement is his most recent move targeting trans people in the state. In July, he sued Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration to prevent trans people from updating the sex on their driver’s licenses, and that lawsuit is ongoing. In response to that court filing, the state Department of Health and Environment decided in September that it would no longer allow trans people to change the sex on their birth certificates.

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