As anti-LGBTQ+ legislation continues to be enacted by red states, a policy proposed by the Marysville School District has come under scrutiny.
The controversial policy was introduced on May 9th, 2022 and would require students to obtain parental consent in order to participate in any curricular and non-curricular clubs. Critics of the policy allege that the policy directly targets Safe Space Clubs and LGBT Alliance Clubs at Marysville schools by forcing participants to come out or go further into hiding. Proponents claim that the policy is essential to reaffirm parental rights and ensure the safety of children.
A few weeks ago, on May 16th, hundreds of people showed up to testify for and against the policy at a school board meeting. Boardmember Katie Jackson proposed an amendment to remove the policy, which failed. Another boardmember introduced an amendment to apply the parental consent policy to K‑8 students instead of all grade levels. This measure passed by a 4–1 vote.
Three weeks later, Save Marysville organized a rally outside a school board meeting. Save Marysville is a grassroots group that attempted to elect progressive candidates to the school board during the 2021–22 election cycle.
At the school board meeting following the rally, scores of parents and community members showed up to testify and advocate for their beliefs.
Those supporting the parental consent policy compared the measure to parental consent requirements for sports and field trips and underlined the importance of parents knowing where their children were and what they were doing at all times.
Don Fink underscored the benefits of parental involvement in education.
To Autumn Osborn, voting against the policy would “encourage children to participate in activities without [parental] consent,” teaching “children that their parents should be lied to, aren’t to be trusted, and don’t understand them.”
The commenting period quickly devolved into transphobic and homophobic material as parents and grandparents expressed concern over what content Safe Space Clubs might expose their children to.
Melissa Shreve drew the analogy that if parents had the ability to opt out of sex ed, they needed to have the ability to opt out of Safe Space Clubs.
Nan Gemmer expressed concern about her children being introduced to conversations about gender in elementary school through the club, and Rita Heid alleged that the club was “pushing kids into being transgender.”
Opponents of the policy expressed anger and distress over this characterization of the Safe Space club. Educators, students, parents, and State Representative Emily Wicks expressed the necessity for children to have a safe space to explore their identities, without the risk and potential danger of coming out.
“Not every parent or guardian is loving and accepting,” said Wicks, before reading aloud several personal accounts of Marysville students who had experienced parental abuse after being so much as referred to as lesbian.
Lou Ann Rose Carter confirmed that, as a nurse, she has personally interacted with many children who were the victims of parental abuse due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and needed a safe space at school because they didn’t feel safe at home.
This was in contrast to proponents of parental consent who argued that parental abuse did not occur in Marysville and that it was “wrong to use a minority of bad parents as a reason to take away the rights of good parents.”
Educators disputed that the policy would restrict the rights of “good parents” who wish to know the whereabouts of their children.
Briauna Hansen identifies as LGBT and is the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) advisor at the Marysville school she teaches at.
“Anyone who wants to find their child, they will,” said Hansen.
Hansen explained that most of the members of the GSA she advises are not out to their parents and make excuses for why they stay later in school.
Yet, no parent had ever reached out to her in search of their student.
High school counselor Alisabeth Beecher concurred with Hansen, emphasizing how much she wished parents were regularly as involved in their children’s education as the amount of involvement at the school board meeting.
“If you want to know where your child is at all times, that communication and trust needs to be established within your own home,” said high school junior Athena Edwards. “You should not punish others for your own shortcomings.”
A significant portion of Marysville School District serves the Tulalip tribes.
Phoenix Two Spirit added an Indigenous perspective to the conversation, emphasizing the hypocrisy of the board’s land acknowledgement.
The acknowledgement promised to honor cultural practices, implicitly including the Two-Spirit community (a traditional Indigenous term for people who are gender-fluid). Yet, Two Spirit said, the board was seriously considering adopting transphobic policies.
Daniel Brady, another parent, alleged that the policy would violate the Equal Access Act of 1984, which prevents schools from discriminating against students wishing to meet based on the content of their speech at such meetings.
The ACLU of Washington has also suggested that the policy could infringe on students’ First Amendment rights to free speech by chilling members out of participation due to the threat of being forcibly outed.
Galovin indicated that legal concerns had prompted the board to consult legal counsel on May 31st to evaluate the risks of implementing the parental consent policy.
“If we move forward with this policy, we will spend at least a $100,000 in legal fees, and if we lose any of those, we will spend hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars going through that process,” said Galovin.
The district is already facing $13.5 million in budget cuts after two recent levies failed to pass.
Incoming superintendent Dr. Zachary Robbins sat in on the June 6th meeting after being voted in one month early in order to be given input on the budget crisis.
The boardmembers agreed to continue the conversation in another public work-study session at the next board meeting, on June 21st.
Board members Keira Atchley and Connor Krebbs expressed firm support for the parental consent policy, citing the “constitutional right for parents to have a say in what their children are doing,” especially with what he characterized as backlash against involved, concerned, well-intentioned parents who decried “critical race theory” in the classrooms.
Galovin did not take a clear position, and Wade Rinehardt was not present.
Jackson expressed opposition to the policy, due to the potential litigation costs, equal access acts, and impact on gay students.
The school board and superintendent expressed gratitude for the unprecedented volume of community involvement in the policy, regardless of viewpoint.
“We are here to protect the children,” said Jackson. “I’m a mama bear and I will just continue to fight for our kids, and, hopefully, you will too.”