by Jaie Avila News 4 San Antonio – November 2, 2022
SAN ANTONIO – It’s a divisive issue being debated by parents and schoolboards across the nation — whether race and gender theory should be taught in schools.
The News 4 Trouble Shooters obtained training materials local districts purchased for staff members and spoke to parents who are divided over the content. The materials are part of diversity, equity and inclusion training many districts have rolled out for staff the past few years.
Training at Northside ISD included elements of race and gender theory some parents say undermines what they teach at home.
A number of local school districts spent big money on DEI training the last three years: Judson ISD $25,000, Alamo Heights ISD $43,750, SAISD $86,198, Northside ISD $128,000 and Southwest ISD $379,000. The instruction focused mostly on treating students and co-workers respectfully, taking into account cultural differences.
However, training materials at Northside upset some parents. Like a slide instructing staff to use “gender inclusive language and pronouns” and avoid terms like “ladies and gentlemen”, “man and woman” or “guys”. Instead, staff members were advised to use terms such as “person” or “folks”. Other slides provide definitions for terms like “pansexual”, “gender queer” and “cisgender”.
“Just make sure my child masters what they need to before they move on to the next grade. None of that other stuff matters, that’s part of my job,” said parent Polly McDonald.
We showed the materials to a group of parents, some of whom took issue with slides teaching educators about “implicit” or “unconscious bias” and “whiteness”, which they worry might confuse their children of mixed-race.
“If she hears whiteness, will she think to herself, ‘well she doesn’t look white, so is she better now than everybody else? Mom is white, so is mom really bad?’” said Northside parent and former teacher Lesley Casias.
News 4 requested an interview with NISD Superintendent Brian Woods, but he declined to speak with us about the training, even at a recent public meeting. The district would only respond to questions in writing…
“The slides you reference were training slides presented to a specialized group of school professionals – school counselors, not teachers.
These trainings were not provided to students and were not taught in Northside classrooms. Issues of race, sexuality, and gender are absolutely left to parents and families.”
The parents we spoke to believe the training will be passed on to students. Some were troubled by a slide asking counselors how comfortable they would be if a student came out to them as LGBT and how they would feel if the child asked them to keep it a secret.
“The parent is in charge, the parent needs to know,” Casias said.
“What we’re really doing is instilling an ideology into our children that may not be something that I believe at home, or another parent believes at home,” McDonald added.
Of course, there’s another side to this. Sophie Jeffery is the parent of an LGBTQ student at Northside.
“I looked at those slides and all I saw was an opportunity for teachers and staff to learn more about a population that they may not be immediately familiar with,” said Jeffery.
Jeffery doesn’t think the training is encouraging staff members to keep anything from parents, but she does support one-on-one conversations between educators and students about LGBTQ and gender issues.
“Maybe they don’t have a comfortable environment at home, wouldn’t you want a teacher to be able to provide that?” Jeffery asked.
The following are Northside ISD’s full responses to News 4’s questions about the training…
Your statement that district staff have received extensive diversity, equity, and inclusion training is a misrepresentation. The reality is that the trainings, conducted over a two-year period, have been small in number and provided to a very small group of specialized professionals.
The documents you reference are taken out of context without a full understanding of the specialized professionals participating in these sessions and the scope of their work with students.
Our core work is to ensure educational excellence in a safe environment for all students.
Q: Parents ask why NISD doesn’t focus on core academic subjects and leave race, sexuality, and gender issues to parents?
“Northside ISD does focus on core academic subjects and follows a curriculum based on the state standards or Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The trainings provided were for specialized adult staff members (i.e. counselors) who in the regular course of their professional work deal with a wide diversity of individuals. These trainings were not provided to students and were not taught in Northside classrooms. Issues of race, sexuality, and gender are absolutely left to parents and families.”
Q: Are district teachers and counselors being trained to have LGBT conversations with individual students and keep those conversations secret from parents?
“The slide you reference (in document 3) is taken from a training for school counselors. These individuals are bound by the American School Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics. That slide asked two questions of those professionals and did not tell them to hide things from parents. As a part of their professional responsibilities, counselors in NISD are trained in addressing sensitive conversations that students initiate. Youth who identify as LGBT are at great risk of mental health crisis and outcries of suicide and counselors must be able to identify a student in crisis. Our mission in Northside is to transform the learning environment for every student and part of that involves creating safe learning spaces for all students.”
Q: Does the training assume teachers, students and parents harbor implicit or unconscious bias?
“No, it is not fair to assume that teachers, students and parents harbor implicit or unconscious bias. Northside ISD and this training are not making the assumption that anyone harbors implicit or unconscious bias. The slide you referenced is a link in a larger training offered to educational professionals to bring awareness to the larger topic of racism. This optional training was not offered to students and does not make any assumptions about someone’s view on race, sex or gender.”
Q: How do you respond to parents’ concern that by training staff to not use terms like MEN and WOMEN, and LADIES and GENTLEMEN, and introducing terms such as Pansexual, Cisgender and Gender queer, the district is forcing an ideology on students that might be contrary to what they’ve been taught at home?
“The slides you reference were training slides presented to a specialized group of school professionals – school counselors, not teachers. The slides were bringing awareness to specific terms these professionals may encounter in their professional interactions. These slides were not part of the Northside curriculum nor were they taught to students.”