Our Private School Doesn't Know What They Don’t Know - and Students Suffer
Our letter to our daughter's school about their policy on student transitions
In June, my daughter graduated from a “top” private school in our city, a major city in the US Mid-Atlantic area. From 2009, when she started there in pre-K, until 12th grade, when she graduated, this school was her second home. In 8th grade, we now know, she asked her school advisor to refer to her with “they/them pronouns”. Since that time, she has socially transitioned at school in lockstep with a handful of friends. We learned of this midway through her 10th grade year, when she told us—with her therapist present and via Zoom (though at the time, we were all at home). At this point, she had been self-harming and suffering from anxiety and depression.
Over the years I have conveyed my concerns to her school about their policies regarding gender theory, namely that they do not inform parents of their child’s gender questioning and that, through assorted ways, gender theory has seeped into the lives of the students—without any guardrails. My message to the school administrators has consistently been that they’ve gotten ahead of themselves, that they are ‘playing with fire,’ etc. Nothing changed.
As my daughter headed to college last week, identifying as a trans-man, I felt compelled to attempt to shares my concerns with the school one last time. I am sharing the text of what I wrote. Perhaps others may want to copy or borrow from it.
Dear Head of School,
I write again about the issue of gender theory in our School. But I am not writing to continue debating gender theory’s place there. Rather, I’m writing to repeat one of my central concerns – transparency at the School – and to share how it played out in our family. I note that we have brought up transparency previously.
At any other time in history, if a minor child was known to be suffering from body dysphoria or experiencing decoupling from their sexed body, the parents would be notified. And the parents would participate in the discussion of how to best support their child. But that is not happening today’s world, including at our School.
The School has a transparency imperative that it is failing to meet. Devastating consequences result. In this regard, I offer a firsthand account of our lived experience with the School’s programming and policies.
As my oldest daughter struggled with gender confusion, her anxiety and depression were compounded by the School’s policy on “Student Transitions”. If my husband and I had known the extent of her pain sooner, we could have been more supportive and helped to ease her anxiety. Instead, she suffered alone—for years. This torments us. The School’s “Student Transitions” policy has had a devastating impact on my daughter and on our family. If you have not gone through this, I assure you that you do not understand it. The School’s Community Handbook explains that in 5th through 12th grades:
Generally, notifying a student’s parent or guardian about a student’s identity, expression, or transition is unnecessary, as they are already aware and may be supportive. In some cases, however, notifying parents carries risks for the student.
Partnering with or even informing parents is not a given. Rather, “the School will work closely with the transitioning student to determine how best to support a transition” before potentially notifying parents. Does this mean the School worked closely with my child?
If so, who worked with her?
What was the nature of the “close work”?
Who at the School is qualified for such “close work” with a minor child?
Or is the opposite true?
Did the School know of my daughter’s issues and do nothing to help her?
I know that faculty members knew of her situation: Indeed, one faculty member even emailed my daughter to congratulate her for changing her name at school to traditionally male name. That same teacher high-fived her for doing so. This is outrageous. Even earlier, we know that a teacher in grades 7/8 explicitly knew of her issue.
I am not sure which is worse—the fact that the School was “working closely” with my minor child without involving us, or that the School did nothing other than encourage her despite acknowledged “health, well-being, and safety” risks.
A policy that excludes parents is absolutist and based on insulting assumptions. In our case it made for awful consequences. Safe spaces are very important for kids, I agree. But I am dubious that the School appreciates the complexities of how these particular issues play out in the lives of students. I also have to wonder what the policy teaches these children about relationships with their parents—that secrets are healthy and will keep them safe? In our family, we have told our children that if an adult asks you to keep a secret from your parents, that is cause for concern. It also stands to reason that any teacher or adult keeping secrets from parents is suspect, not to mention of questionable ethics.
I don’t want a protracted debate on gender theory. I simply want to describe our experience living with the School’s policies and programming, in particular, its lack of transparency with parents.
I also appreciate the offer to meet with us and the offer to get help for our daughter, but I respectfully decline both. I assure you that we have gone, and continue to go, to great lengths to help her. We are ready to close her chapter at the School, though this conclusion to her 14 years there is a sad one.
I simply wish to emphasize:
Transparency in the “Student Transitions” policy, the School’s approach to gender theory in general, and individual students’ experience is highly problematic and remains unaddressed by you or anyone we have engaged with starting in 2019 (I note that the promised changes to information for Grades 5-8 parents have not been made).
The School explains that it recognizes a social justice rationale to its posture on gender theory—but there is an iatrogenic effect on children that the School seems not to acknowledge or perhaps, honor. I am here to tell you firsthand how it sometimes plays out for vulnerable minors (note: there are many School families in our position).
The School has a material role in experiences like ours. And I wholeheartedly believe that the School does not appreciate the particular phenomena at play. We have been pressing for years for acknowledgment of the complex implications of these issues.
Finally, I am requesting a full accounting of our daughter’s experience dealing with this issue at the School. Among other things, it may aid her healing process.