On Monday, October 10, the Rice Lake School Board voted 7–1 to amend a policy that previously had allowed for minors to change their names and pronouns at school without parental consent, now requiring a parent sign off before allowing such a change. “The debate mirrors rhetoric overtaking districts across the state and around the country,” according to wpr.org.
Many parents have come forward, in this case and in others around the state, to argue that parents have a right to know and that the policy as it stood was a violation of their constitutional and sometimes religious liberty. WPR continues, “‘If I have a student coming to school that has issues like this, I would want to know that as a parent,’ said Kelly Sellers, a community member. ‘As a parent, I put a lot of time and a lot of money into my kid…and for parents not to have a right to know what’s going on with their child is totally wrong.’”
But not all trans and queer kids have safe and supportive parents, and this policy will potentially out kids who do not want their families to know, putting those kids in danger, both of violence in the home from hateful family members, and also from self harm and suicide.
At a press conference outside the school board meeting, James Kiffmeyer, whose son identifies as transgender, stated, “I am a medical professional, and I want to start with a cold, hard, sobering fact. Data indicate that 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide, and those risks are at their highest during their school years. That isn’t controversial information, it is very real and very deadly facts, which the school board must certainly be aware of. The Rice Lake School Board is wanting to limit the choices of these highly at-risk children.” He continued, “On the one hand, the child can choose to go by a gender they don’t believe applies to them, and use a name that doesn’t align with the gender they align with. And that misalignment can build in their mind, with the very possible result of dangerous outcomes involving self harm and even suicide.”
Abbey Fischer, who identifies as a lesbian and was formerly on the Rice Lake School Board, had to step down recently because of the debate around trans issues. According to WPR, she said that the school board used to be more supportive of transgender students, but national policies have “reshaped the board in the past few years…and sentiment over LGBTQ+ policies has changed.” She asserted that the debate is much more than just informing parents of name changes, but, after a parent complaint resulted in a principal removing a welcoming sticker from a teacher’s door, ‘We as a district are telling our staff that they can’t respect the dignity of the human in front of them.’ Fischer said. ‘And that’s going to feel awful for our students, it’s going to feel awful for our staff, and creates a climate that is unsafe and unsupportive.’”