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Parents worry policy changes at Oak Harbor could 'out' transgender students

Parents worry students could be "outed" by school staff.

OAK HARBOR, Wash. — Policy changes are being considered in the Oak Harbor School District regarding privacy and gender identity issues.

Some parents worry the changes could end up "outing" transgender students.

There are two changes being proposed by the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA), which regularly suggest updates to policies for school boards to consider. The proposals are causing concern throughout the local LGBTQ+ community.

On Thursday, Jeremy Mischo took an end-of-the-summer stroll with his mom, Fe. The two took a moment to look back on the previous school year, which was anything but a walk in the park.

"There was definitely a lot of picking on me or even full-on verbal harassment," said Jeremy.

Jeremy, 14, is transitioning from female to male. He said he has felt this way since he was little – wanting to use the boy's bathroom at camp instead of the girl's – and it was a long, hard journey to accept himself.

Now, he and his mom worry the proposed policy changes in Oak Harbor schools could go too far.

"To me, it's not the school's job to tell you who your child is," said Fe, a member of the Whidbey Island chapter of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

The first change would formally give parents the right to request their own student's school records – which may include gender identity. The district said this is just codifying a practice that has always been in place.

Fe, however, worries gender or name changes in those records could be seen by a family member who opposes the child's sexuality, and create a backlash.

"Not every home is loving," said Fe. "You never know what's going on inside someone's house."

Others argue that parents have every right to know what is happening with their child's well-being and decision making.

The biggest change would be to allow school counselors to "consider safety concerns" before contacting a student's family regarding their gender identity. While that may sound completely acceptable, Jeremy's mom worries the policy might prompt well-meaning counselors to pressure reluctant kids into coming out.

"It's not that the counselor will run behind the student's back and tell the parents. It's that the counselor will have this information, and a compliant child, a child who doesn't want to ripple the waters with an adult, might feel intimidated or pushed to say, 'OK I guess we should tell my parents' when they're not ready. The kids should have 100% of the say."

Oak Harbor School District spokesperson Sarah Foy stressed no policy changes have been made. The district has sent the changed language recommended by WSSDA to the school board. 

She added the issue is not unique to Oak Harbor.

"This is a policy that's being looked at across the state and across the nation, right now," Foy said.

Foy said Oak Harbor is committed to allowing students to be their true, authentic selves, and that counselors serve as an ally for students.

Their trust, Foy said, will not be violated.

"I think we're always trying to make sure our students are safe not only on our campus but at home, and breaking that dynamic would be very dangerous," Foy said.

The Oak Harbor School Board is expected to meet next Monday, Aug. 29 at 6 p.m. to further discuss the issue.

No decision is expected until later this year.

Meanwhile, in just a few days, Jeremy will walk into Oak Harbor High School as a freshman. It's a major transition for anyone. 

He just hopes the bullies have had a change of heart.

"High school is a huge change," said Jeremy. "Hopefully they'll mature over those years and realize they were being really crappy people."

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