Lincoln teacher says gender sensitivity training felt like sexual harassment

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. – A teacher says he felt like he was being sexually harassed during a Lincoln Public Schools training exercise where teachers were told to share when they first became aware of their gender and sexual orientation.

However, the teacher is so worried about possible repercussions for going public about it that he declined to do an interview with Nebraska Watchdog. But last week on KFOR’s Coby Mach Show, Mach asked the superintendent about the teacher’s concerns, which he outlined in an email to Mach.

BOYS AND GIRLS? A teacher in Lincoln, Neb., says he felt he was undergoing institutionalized sexual harassment during gender sensitivity training at the school district at the center of a controversy over gender inclusivity training guidelines given to teachers.

Mach said the teacher described a training exercise where teachers were told to “let go of uncomfortable feelings,” have an open mind and talk about when they first became aware of their gender and sexual orientation. He said they were also asked personal questions about faith, religion and spirituality.

The teacher said Pat Hunter-Pirtle, director of secondary education for LPS, sat in the back of the room during the training, which made it intimidating and “seemed like a case of institutional sexual harassment.”

Superintendent Steve Joel said that was probably the school district’s cultural proficiency training, which he went through along with about 300 principals and teachers. He said it was more focused on racial bias than gender issues.

“Before we can help kids understand what they’re seeing, what they’re experiencing, what they’re feeling, we have to understand ourselves,” Joel said. “Because we can’t teach through the lens of just how we were brought up and how we grew up and what we were taught was right. It’s a different world today.”

He said if the teacher felt uncomfortable, he should have felt free to express his concerns, and later said the teacher should talk to his principal about it.

Joel said the goal of LPS’s cultural proficiency training is to address bullying and make sure kids of all shapes and sizes aren’t afraid to go to school.

“We’re not going to back down from this,” Joel said.

LPS made national news earlier this month when a parent raised concerns about gender sensitivity training at a middle school that suggested teachers not call students “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen” but instead anything from scholars to campers to a classroom mascot like Purple Penguins.

After the story went viral and LPS was ridiculed by some media outlets, Superintendent Steve Joel called a press conference Friday to clarify that the widely reported “12 easy steps to on the way to gender inclusiveness” training handouts were guidelines, not mandates. Joel also sent email and phone messages to all LPS parents and staff Thursday evening “to set the record straight,” citing “recent confusion and misinformation.”

Concerned Lincoln parents apparently plan to address the school board about the training materials at its next meeting, Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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