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Thursday, June 23rd, 2022

Marysville School District debates parental consent policy for clubs that opponents say would violate students’ rights

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.”

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