FARGO, N.D. (CITC) — A North Dakota school district is sparking outrage through its noncompliance with a newly signed bill prohibiting teachers from withholding a student's gender identity from their parents.
Fargo Public Schools (FPS) Superintendent Dr. Rupak Gandhi announced the district's intentions earlier this month, just one day after North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed the bill. HB1522 states, among other things, that school districts may not "withhold or conceal information about a student's transgender status from the student's parent or legal guardian."
Gandhi told the community at a May 9 school board meeting that FPS should "double down" to advocate for students in the presence of a perceived conflict between federal and state law.
"We will not openly out any student because of one law if we know that that's going to cause harm to that child," Gandhi said, who was backed by the FPS school board.
Gandhi noted that the decision was not made "against" parents. However, several parents still chose to oppose the move at the following school board meeting.
"The way I see it, the way I heard it is that you want to protect kids from their parents," one father told the school board Tuesday. "Instead of encouraging everyone to talk more, you are suppressing talk."
"I really urge you all to pay attention to what we're setting as a precedent," one mother added. "Whose kids are these? Do they belong to you as a school board? Do they belong to Fargo Public Schools? Or is each child's parent ultimately the decision-maker in their family over what is allowed and what is safe for that child?"
Critics of HB1522 have argued that immediately informing parents whether their child identifies as transgender has the potential to create an unsafe home environment for the student. Some thanked the FPS school board Tuesday for "courageously supporting all children" through its approach.
"Inclusive school policies and procedures make a difference," Kristin Nelson, mother and co-founder of North Dakota-based LGBTQ+ youth advocacy organization, said.
However, the majority who spoke Tuesday feel that FPS is "facilitating secret-keeping" through its "efforts to break the law."
"You teach your kids that nobody who asks you to keep a secret is safe," one mother said. "Now, this is going the other way. This is an adult saying that they'll keep a child's secret."
Some parents feel that FPS is opening itself up to potential legal challenges by not fully complying with HB1522, and they urged the school board to reverse the decision. It is not immediately clear when FPS will begin to enforce this approach.
When asked to comment on both parents' concerns and how the district determined its approach, a FPS spokesperson told Crisis in the Classroom (CITC) that the district "does not have any comment regarding the recognition of audience portion of the May 23 Board meeting."