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Lincoln Public Schools administrators have begun talking to staff about transgender issues so they can better help students, and that has some parents worried the district is promoting an agenda.

“The agenda we’re promoting is to help all kids succeed,” said Brenda Leggiardo, LPS coordinator of social workers and counselors. "We have kids who come to us with a whole variety of circumstances, and we need to equitably serve all kids.”

But Rachel Terry, a parent with students at Lincoln Southeast High School and Irving Middle School, has sent emails to other parents saying LPS is promoting a “gender inclusiveness” agenda and asking them to join her at the Oct. 14 school board meeting. 

“By sidelining academic teacher training and replacing it with social re-engineering, the LPS administration has placed a higher priority on social reformation than on education,” Terry says in a copy of an “introductory speech” prepared for school board members.

Terry, reached by phone, declined further comment, saying she preferred to address the school board through established board procedures. The Journal Star obtained a copy of her email and attachments from another source.

Her email to other parents included three handouts she said had been provided to LPS staff, including one titled "12 easy steps on the way to gender inclusiveness” that, among other things, advised avoiding “gendered” expressions such as “boys and girls.”

The handout suggests opting for more specific terms such as “calling all readers” or “hey, campers.”

Other handouts talk about the continuum of sex and gender, and that the human condition doesn’t operate on a strict binary system of male and female.

At least two of those handouts were shared with Southeast staff.

During administrative leadership days prior to the beginning of the school year, LPS officials shared a local news story that profiled a transgendered person, a Time magazine cover story on the issue and one from a CBS morning news program.

Student Services Director Russ Uhing said the goal of the administrative session was to help school leaders better understand the issues facing students so they can be welcoming to all students and make them feel comfortable.

That's particularly important for gay, lesbian and transgender students, he said, because they are at a higher risk of being bullied, having mental health issues and committing suicide.

LPS has trained staff on behavioral and social issues, including gay and lesbian issues, for many years, Leggiardo said. And staff time is spent on other behavior, cultural and social issues. But this is the first year they’ve talked specifically about transgender issues, mostly because there is more information available.

“I’ve been in the district for a while, and I have to say the transgender topic is not a new topic, but my understanding of it has grown over the years,” she said.

Irving Principal Susette Taylor said she held a staff session that included speakers from the earlier administrative session, because she thought they were so effective.

The handouts, provided by a staff member on a district equity team, were meant only for teachers, not for students or parents, she said.

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And they were not meant as rules staff had to follow, but as suggestions for how teachers can make students feel comfortable. It also stresses the impact words can have on others, Leggiardo said.

“If there’s a staff member that’s uninformed and unsupportive, that can be pretty scary for a family maybe struggling to understand transgender issues themselves,” she said.

The transgender issue has caused waves with the Nebraska School Activities Association, which considered a policy offering guidance to districts on how to deal with transgendered students participating in sports or other school activities. In the end, NSAA officials opted to let the full membership, rather than the Board of Directors, decide. So far, there's no policy.

John Neal, assistant to the superintendent at LPS, said the district doesn't need a policy on how to deal with issues transgender students might have, because the district deals with students on an individual basis on a variety of issues.

In her email and draft speech, Terry said using taxpayer dollars to promote “the deconstruction of fundamental family and religious values” is a serious breach of trust.

LPS’s Uhing said that’s not what the district is doing.

“Our purpose is to educate all kids," Uhing said. "We do not push a political agenda, we don’t push a religious preference on people, or a sexual preference on people. That’s not what our role is.

“Part of education in addition to academics is the feeling of welcomeness, the relationship piece.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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