Liberty Elementary School (top) and Cascade Elementary School. (Marysville School District)

Liberty Elementary School (top) and Cascade Elementary School. (Marysville School District)

Marysville School Board proposes parental consent to join LGBTQ clubs

The policy could force kids to out themselves, which could put them in danger in their homes, according to the ACLU.

MARYSVILLE — Teachers, parents and one state lawmaker have condemned a Marysville School Board proposal they say would impede students’ access to LGBTQ groups.

The school board is considering requiring parental consent for all non-curriculum and co-curricular student groups. In practice, that could mean students would need a parent to sign a permission slip to attend clubs before or after school.

In a near-unanimous vote, school board members moved the policy to a second reading Monday night. It could be adopted at the board meeting May 16.

State Rep. Emily Wicks was among those who spoke against the policy Monday.

“Stop preventing children from getting the support and love they are not getting from home by getting in the way of safe and trusted educators, advocates and spaces at school,” Wicks said. “Stop thinking that the way you, and your limited network, live your life, is the right way or the only way to live a life. Stop further driving my schools, my district, and my community into the ground with your backward approaches. … And if you can’t stop, please stop serving in this role.”

Earlier this year, school board members asked staff to pump the brakes on creating clubs for LGBTQ students and students with LGBTQ families at several Marysville elementary schools. The clubs are a supportive space for students to hang out once a week before school.

Some parents and board members said they are worried there is limited parental oversight and that elementary-age children are too young to discuss sexuality.

“There’s this whole movement across the United States — there’s this idea that schools are trying to take initiative and responsibility away from parents as far as the involvement in our kids,” Marysville School Board member Connor Krebbs said during a discussion about an LGBTQ affinity group. “And this group, this club that was created … fuels that kind of flame.”

Elementary school teachers stood before the school board in February to explain the need for groups for LGBTQ youth. A trans student had died by suicide in the school district, first-grade teacher Veronica Underwood told school board members then.

Erin Keim, a staff member and parent of two Marysville School District students, said she sees many ramifications: Students may have to out themselves to their families, for example. According to one staff training, she said, two in every 30 high school students will attempt suicide at some point in high school.

“There are many factors listed that can lead to suicide,” Keim said. “One of the major ones is rejection, not just rejection from peers, but rejection by family members. Our LGBTQ+ students are twice as likely to attempt suicide.”

Most clubs don’t have to be defended before the school board.

But soon after this club was introduced, Board President Paul Galovin said, some board members discussed how to put parents in charge of their kids’ choices.

Board member Wade Rinehardt told the Herald the proposed policy change “is not an attack on any one club,” but the club prompted board members “to look at policy and see where we were lacking.”

The policy would limit students’ access to the club, said Kendrick Washington, director of the Policy Advocacy Group at the ACLU of Washington.

“You’re gonna have one or two effects,” he said. “You’re either gonna force kids to out themselves, which could put them in danger in their own home. … Or what you’re going to do is you’re going to take a group of youth who would have had a place to go express themselves … and you’re going to force them deeper into hiding, for lack of a better term.”

According to an ACLU guide for Washington schools, “if you are not out to your parents, the school should respect your right to privacy and not disclose your sexual orientation without your permission.”

Nothing in federal or state law offers much guidance on the proposal’s legality, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

OSPI Equity & Civil Rights team provided some legal context to the school district, the spokesperson said.

State guidelines advise schools to not disclose “information about a student’s transgender status, legal name, or gender assigned at birth,” as it may constitute confidential information, according to the OSPI.

Washington said he’s not aware of another district in the state considering a similar policy. Parental permission is not required for students to join clubs in nearby Everett and Snohomish schools.

“We understand that they are children, but these are young adults with their own mind, their own thoughts, with their own desires,” Washington said. “This is sort of saying that you aren’t even responsible enough to choose a school club that you want to join.”

Last fall, Marysville school board members adopted a new educational equity policy, including a commitment to “identify and address any barriers to academic achievement, access, and opportunities.”

“This leads to yet another barrier,” Galovin said of the club policy.

Galovin was the sole vote against the policy. Board Member Katie Jackson was not in attendance.

After the vote, board member Keira Atchley said she believes parents should be involved “in what our children are doing … so there’s no surprises at home.”

“Our schools and classrooms should be a safe place for all of our students all day long,” she said.

Requiring parental permission is blatant discrimination against the most vulnerable students, Underwood said. Many students don’t have the support at home to feel comfortable coming out.

LGBTQ youth are much more likely to be homeless at some point than their heterosexual peers, Rep. Wicks said, citing a 2015 study. She learned this reality through her work with Cocoon House, a nonprofit that provides short- and long-term housing for homeless and at-risk youth.

“Half of all teens get a negative reaction from their parents when they come out to them, and more than one in four are forced to leave their home,” Wicks said. “So our youth are at great risk of death.”

Over a decade ago, a similar debate unfolded in an Idaho school district when four students applied to form a club for LGBTQ students. School board members then proposed adding parental consent for students to join some clubs. Two LGBTQ rights advocacy groups wrote letters urging the board to drop the proposal.

“Were it to be adopted, the Proposed Policy would have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable and at-risk students in the District,” says one of the letters. “… In addition to responsible action by school officials, GSAs serve as an important part of the antidote to hostility toward LGBT youth: students in schools with a GSA are less likely to report feeling unsafe because of their sexual orientation.”

In the Idaho case, the school board backed off the proposal.

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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