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Controversy erupts in Jefferson County after the teachers union tells educators to destroy evidence of student surveys regarding gender identity

Controversy erupts in Jefferson County after the teachers union tells educators to destroy evidence
Controversy erupts in Jefferson County after the teachers union tells educators to destroy evidence 03:08

Some parents in Jefferson County say teachers are breaking state and federal laws and their union is helping them get away with it.

At issue are student surveys about gender identity. While the school district says it's unclear whether surveys about students' preferred pronouns are illegal, there are several lawsuits regarding the issue. So, administrators told teachers - just don't go there.

The teachers union told them something else. An email from Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) to teachers says, "if you do a questionnaire, please make it a paper and pencil activity - any digital records are more permanent and may be requested under federal law." 

The union also encouraged teachers to "make your notations about students and not hold on to the documents."

Denice Crawford, who has three kids in the school district, says she was encouraged when the district sent an email to all employees before the school year started reminding them state and federal law prohibits mandatory surveys that ask kids about protected information and even voluntary surveys, it said, are illegal unless parents can opt out.

When her son came home with a survey asking about his gender identity she was more than surprised.

"Deceived, lied to, taken advantage of," she said.   

She's not alone. Parents with Jeffco Kids First say dozens of teachers have conducted the surveys after their union advised them how to hide evidence of them.

"The leadership actually provided an avenue to get around the law and basically saying it was OK," says school board member Susan Miller.

She says the union put teachers' jobs at risk - those that violate the law can lose their licensure.

Crawford says it also put teachers relationship with parents at risk.

"I don't feel I can trust the teachers," she said. 

She says she reported her son's survey to his principal but hasn't heard back. She says she's not anti-LGBTQ. Her nephew, she says is transgender and her daughter is gay.

"This is not political. It's just they're breaking the law," she said.

When asked what action should take place she responded, "the same thing that would happen to anybody breaking the law accountability and correction."

Miller agrees, "I want parents to know the district takes this very seriously."  

The union says the district has given contradictory directions regarding preferred pronouns but a slide the district sent teachers is hardly ambiguous. 

It says, "please no preferred pronoun/gender identity questionnaire. Do not promise to keep information from parents."

Miller says the union needs to issue a retraction.

"Maybe do a corrective that says, 'hey we were wrong. We need to abide by the laws written. They are there for a reason,'" Miller said. 

JCEA President, Brooke Williams, wouldn't say why she directed teachers use paper and get rid of surveys after noting students answers. She claims people are politicizing the issue.

In a statement, she said:

"By allowing students an optional avenue to share their preferred pronouns while maintaining student privacy, we can better ensure that students feel safe, respected, and validated. We encourage and support educators to follow Jeffco's district policy which states: School staff shall not disclose information that may reveal a student's transgender status to others, including parents and other school staff, unless legally required to do so or unless the student has authorized such disclosure. Transgender and gender nonconforming students have the right to discuss and express their gender identity and expression openly and to decide when, with whom, and how much to share private information."

Parents say they're not questioning whether students should be able to share their preferred pronouns or whether transgender people should be outed, but rather why the union told teachers to break the law and hide the evidence.

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