LANSING − Republican candidate for governor Tudor Dixon called Tuesday for the resignation of Michigan’s top school official, citing Michigan Department of Education LGBTQ training materials she said coach teachers to hide information about students from students’ parents.
“Our schools have lost their way,” Dixon said during a news conference held in front of the Department of Education building near the state Capitol.
“Somewhere along the way, radical political actors decided that our schools are laboratories for their social experiments and our children are their lab rats.”
Dixon, a mother of four school-age girls who attend a private religious school, is trailing Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer by low double-digits in most recent polls. She has been hitting on hot-button themes such as crime and school cultural issues as she ramps up her campaign and her attacks on the governor.
Citing poor Michigan results on standardized tests, Dixon said it’s time to get the state’s schools “back to the basics” of teaching children how to “read, write and do math.”
In calling for the resignation of Michigan State Superintendent Michael Rice, Dixon cited Department of Education training videos for a project related to LGBTQ students, which have recently circulated through social media.
“The Michigan Department of Education is actively training staff to help young kids transition (in terms of gender identity) and instructing them not to tell their parents, even if they are suicidal,” Dixon said.
Dixon was referencing an excerpt from one video in which the question of liability was raised if a student committed suicide and a parent was not aware of a name and/or pronouns the student was using at school. Kim Phillips-Knope, the project lead for the Department of Education’s LGBTQ+ student project, said teachers are legally required to report when they learn students are having suicidal thoughts, but that parents should be notified without “outing” the student and that teachers should work with the student to let them guide the notification process.
Rice has no plans to resign, said department spokesman Martin Ackley.
“Dr. Rice stays committed to working with parents and educators across the state to protect the health, well-being, and education of all Michigan students,” Ackley said. “He has no plans on stepping down as state superintendent.”
The Department of Education said in a Sept. 16 news release it provides “local school district-requested professional development to build the capacity of educators to provide safe, supportive, and inclusive school climates where all students can thrive — especially students who identify as LGBTQ+.”
Suggestions that the department has been holding secret professional development to teach school employees how to facilitate the sexual transition of children under their care while keeping the process a secret from parents are “patently false and deliberately divisive,” the news release said. “Contrary to these harmful allegations, school staff do not facilitate the sexual transition of children.”
Rice said in a recent op-ed in Bridge Magazine that schools are committed to strong partnerships with parents, but not all parents are supportive when told their child is gay or transgender.
“In the professional development sessions, we encourage discussions with parents about these issues whenever possible,” Rice wrote.
“In a situation in which the student is concerned about abuse, neglect, or homelessness if parents are told, educators may be cautious about sharing issues of sexual orientation and gender identity with parents; they have a responsibility not to put children in harm’s way, even inadvertently. Such decisions are not made lightly and are ultimately about safeguarding the health, safety, and wellbeing of students.”
Still, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s chief operating officer, Tricia Foster, said in a Sept. 16 letter to Rice that the video was “concerning.”
“We urge you to review your trainings to ensure they comply with all applicable regulations, maintain department guidelines, and are reflective of best practices,” Foster said. “Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers.”
Dixon said the letter from Foster is not sufficient and she wants to hear directly from Whitmer on the controversy.
Maeve Coyle, a spokeswoman for Whitmer’s campaign, said Dixon supports changing Michigan’s constitution to strip funding from public schools and send it to private schools. Such a change, Coyle said, would take away local control.
“Gov. Whitmer attended Michigan public schools, her daughters attended Michigan public schools, and her grandparents worked in Michigan public schools. She knows that parents are crucial and should be involved in decisions about their child’s education, which is why she created the Michigan Parents Council and worked with Republicans to make historic investments in education, increase mental health resources for students, address the teacher shortage and provide free tutoring.”
Dixon said the training videos are not the only evidence that schools have lost their way in terms of student sexuality and gender issues.
She cited Attorney General Dana Nessel’s June comment that “drag queens are fun” and she favors “a drag queen for every school.” Though many understood Nessel’s comments as joking, Dixon said she believes Nessel was not joking.
Nessel said through a campaign spokeswoman Tuesday that of course she was joking. For Dixon to be “talking about drag queens at all is an attempt to divert attention from the real harms and threats our children are faced with on an everyday basis,” Nessel said. “Drag queens are not among those threats.”
Dixon also cited reports that a new middle school in Muskegon will have gender-neutral bathrooms and interpretations of Title IX law under the administration of President Joe Biden that allow “biological boys” to compete against girls in school sports and use their locker rooms.
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.
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