Nebraska teacher defends Purple Penguin gender sensitivity handouts

Part 6 of 6 in the series LPS gender sensitivity training

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — A Nebraska middle school teacher who gave her colleagues gender-inclusiveness training guidelines last month says they were simply meant to start a conversation, not spark a national controversy.

TEACHER: Irving Middle School teacher Julie Hunter explained her rationale for distributing gender inclusiveness handouts that advised teachers not to call students boys and girls.

Julie Hunter was one of about 200 people who showed up at a Lincoln School Board meeting Tuesday to talk about the training handouts, which sparked a rare controversy in a normally quiet, content school district.

Among the most controversial guidelines in the handouts she distributed was a suggestion teachers not call students “boys and girls,” but instead nongendered names like campers, readers, scholars or even an invented class mascot like Purple Penguins.

Hunter said she got the handouts a year ago at a district equity team meeting on gender inclusiveness, and as Irving Middle School’s equity liaison, she distributed them in September to teachers during a cultural proficiency meeting.

“They were just to really kind of start a conversation,” she said. “There was no mandate or anything. It wasn’t taken to students. It wasn’t to be shared.”

One of the handouts called “The Genderbread Person” said gender isn’t binary, it isn’t either/or and encouraged kids to define their gender based on how much they align with “what you understand to be the options for gender” such as “two-spirit” and “gender/queer.” The options for expressing gender ranged from butch to femme and androgynous to gender-neutral. The handout was written by social justice comedian Sam Killermann.

But Hunter said teachers aren’t using the handout to teach students “how many spectrums are from left to right,” for example.

“We’re just making sure that students feel comfortable, we know where they’re coming from and trying to engage them so that they can be the best possible learner in our classrooms,” she said.

She said one axiom that stayed with her from the training was, “If you don’t deliberately include everyone, you unintentionally exclude someone.”

She said Lincoln Public Schools has no hidden agenda to restructure traditional norms.

“We have to reach each student and make them feel comfortable in their own skin, no matter what that skin looks like or thinks inside,” Hunter said.

At an equity team meeting, she said she learned about 273 of the district’s 39,000 students could be expected to be transgender.

“Parents do come to us and say we’re going to have this student in your building,” she said. “There are 273 LPS students who have the right to have an informed, educated, compassionate, trusting teacher in their corner.”

She said teachers are just trying to make every child feel comfortable and safe.

“I cringe when I heard the word agenda, because I don’t think I’m part of one,” she said. “It’s just teachers have to have this stuff on their radar. Not because we’re going to change society and we have this agenda, because society is changing before our eyes and we have to be prepared for when those parents come in and say we have a sensitive situation … and say this is what we need you to do.”

But a Lincoln man whose two children attend public elementary school says the school is being too accommodating about a preschool student who is “gender fluid,” and comes to school dressed as a boy some days, a girl in skirts other days.

Ali Moghadam has a third-grader and fifth-grader at the school, and said he’s one of several parents who are upset with the way the school district has handled the situation. He represented them at the School Board meeting.

“You are responsible to encourage LPS to be transparent, truthful, trustworthy and wise,” he told the board. “It is not the place of the public school system to allow the school curriculum to fall into the trap of political correctness, one-sided political advocacy, and even worse, gender wars.”

PARENT: Ali Moghadam is concerned about the way the Lincoln school district is handling a gender fluid preschooler who dresses as a boy some days, girl other days.

In an interview later, Moghadam said that about a month ago, the mother of the boy was allowed to talk to the school’s staff about her son’s gender fluidity, in the name of cultural diversity and anti-bullying.

As a former political prisoner who was tortured for months in Iran, Moghadam said he has no tolerance for bullying and supports cultural diversity, but thinks the school should require the boy to dress as a boy so as not to confuse other children.

He told the School Board what is happening is indoctrination, not education. And he’s upset that parents have not been informed about what is going on so they can decide whether they’d rather home-school their children, for example.

He said he’s a Christian and the school’s response runs contrary to his beliefs. He said he went to the principal, Paula Baker, to express his concerns and asked that he be allowed to speak to teachers, too. Baker said she’d have to consult her boss.

Later Moghadam met with Baker and two district administrators, but was denied his request to speak to teachers.

“The parents should be involved,” he said. “It’s not the place of public school to allow the curriculum to fall into political correctness. They have an agenda.”

Baker did not return a phone call seeking comment, and Lincoln Public Schools spokeswoman Mary Kay Roth said LPS does not discuss individual students or families.

Moghadam said he could understand if a high school student felt they were gender fluid, but not a preschooler.

“What if my son every Thursday wants to be a dog?” he said, musing over whether the school would accommodate his requests.

“We are confusing all children,” he said.

Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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