By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. — The woman who first raised concerns about controversial gender inclusiveness training at a middle school plans to run for an open seat on the Lincoln school board next year.
GENDERBENDER: Lincoln mother Rachel Terry sparked a national media firestorm by raising concerns about a middle school’s gender inclusiveness training program which discouraged teachers from calling students girls and boys.
Rachel Terry said she will run for the seat now held by chairman Richard Meginnis, a Republican who isn’t running for re-election.
The volunteer school board is composed of five Democrats and two Republicans. Two Democrats who have supported the gender sensitivity training — Ed Zimmer and Katie McLeese Stephenson — are also up for re-election next spring.
Terry is part of a parental rights group that sprang up in the aftermath of the controversy over the gender training fracas. The training materials made international news, particularly a “12-step program to gender inclusiveness,” where teachers were advised not to use “gendered expressions” such as “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen,” but instead call students campers, scholars, readers, athletes or even a class mascot such as Purple Penguins.
Terry got involved after being contacted by Irving Middle School teachers who feared for their jobs if they raised objections. She emailed the training handouts to other parents and asked them to join her at an Oct. 14 school board meeting; word of the controversy leaked to the press, and 200 people showed up. About 40 people spoke to the school board, with slightly more than half opposing the training materials.
Terry said she’s running because the current board doesn’t represent “a lot of people in the community” with concerns.
“The main reason I’m running is because the school board is a political body that represents the community, and I feel the current board consists of seven people who have very similar outlooks,” she said. “As I’ve gotten to understand and know the board a little more I’ve really come to see that they largely represent a similar point of view, and there’s just not much diversity of thought on that board.”
While parental rights is a big concern, she also wants to address taxpayer concerns about the price of education and look at innovative ways to lower costs.
Terry has said she never intended to create a media firestorm about the gender training, rejecting interview requests until Superintendent Steve Joel held a news conference to condemn some national coverage as inaccurate. Joel said the training offered guidelines, not mandates, and defended the training as a way to confront bullying and make all students feel comfortable at school.
He later ordered the training materials pulled from schools, saying they weren’t “appropriate, purposeful and clear.” But the school board has largely defended the training, saying it complied with district policies.
Terry and others alleged the training materials violated several district policies and called for added transparency and a change to the LPS policy on parental involvement. The school board countered by saying it examined the issue and saw no need for policy changes.
Many of those who opposed the training have felt snubbed and ignored by LPS administrators and school board members. That led to the creation of a group called Citizens for Accountable and Responsible Education, which aims to improve LPS transparency, notification and opt-out options.
Terry has three children in the Lincoln school system and has lived in Lincoln since 2012. She has said she’s never seen such an emphasis in schools on combating bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity — even when she lived in liberal Boulder, Colo.
Irving Middle School teachers went to her with their concerns about the gender training because they knew she raised concerns last year about a bullying assembly that included profanity and discussion about sexuality that disturbed her 11-year-old daughter. During the assembly, high school students acted out various bullying scenarios, including one in which a student came out as gay.
School officials eventually agreed to notify Terry before any future assemblies. They allowed her to attend their next assembly for eighth-graders, a one-act play called “Anne & Emmett” about martyrs Anne Frank and Emmett Till. The play didn’t bother Terry, but she was disturbed when, afterward, the director compared the martyrs to Matthew Shephard, a gay 21-year-old Wyoming man who was murdered in 1998; Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida; and Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was raped and murdered near Falls City, Neb., in 1993.
Not long after, Terry learned the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles was doing outreach for LPS. She began looking into the district’s focus on sexual orientation and gender identity under “the guise of the bullying program” but got virtually no response from LPS.
She faces a formidable opponent in the race for the school board seat: Connie Duncan, a former teacher and past co-chair of the local teachers’ union political action committee, is also running for Meginnis’ seat. Last year, Duncan co-chaired an LPS task force that came up with $350 million worth of school improvement projects, and then chaired a group promoting passage of a $153 million bond issue, which passed handily.
Duncan is married to prominent Lincoln businessman Todd Duncan, chairman of Duncan Aviation, an aircraft service provider. The pro-school bond issue group, dubbed Great Schools for Great Children, received a $6,000 donation from Duncan Aviation and Todd Duncan also donated $2,000 to the group.
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