ND gender notification law empowers parents as school year kicks off

The new school year set to kick off presents an opportunity for a new start for staff, students and families. It also offers opponents of North Dakota’s new parental notification law a soap box, reminding parents just how critical the reporting requirement could be for families and children facing gender identity issues.

Passed by an overwhelming majority of lawmakers this year, the law standardizes the use of pronouns in schools and mandates that school staff notify parents of gender issues that come up with their child.

Opponents made it clear in Forum News that they think schools should have no such obligation and that parents should be kept out of the loop, rather than be informed of their minor child’s developmental gender issues.

Cody Schuler, advocacy manager for the ACLU of North Dakota, says one of their biggest issues with the new law is that it makes schools disclose to parents if a child brings up gender identity issues.

“The core of this is that this law now forces schools to out students when they talk about their gender identity at school, if they are requesting or discussing any sort of need for accommodation, or want to be called by a certain name or pronoun,” said Schuler, adding the new laws create difficult situations for LGBTQ youth.

Of course, no school counselor, administrator or teacher could know or be as invested in a student as deeply as a parent. Nor do educators have the ultimate responsibility for a student’s decisions and actions, only a parent. Yet opponents assert the right to keep what happens with students facing such a difficult matter secret from those who care most.

Mark Jorritsma, the executive director of North Dakota Family Alliance, says he believes parents have the right to know what their child is going through.

“It’s making sure that parents are the ones who understand what’s going on with their child and their sexuality,” Jorritsma said. “Parents can help their child work through their gender dysphoria.”

The law takes the onus off teachers and administrators to use the so-called preferred pronouns a student suffering from gender dysphoria may use. Transgender students must also use bathroom and other facilities that comport with their birth sex, unless parents give permission to do otherwise. It also relieves a lot of pressure on teachers.

Under the law, teachers don’t have to use preferred pronouns and names in the classroom. The rule gives teachers more control, Jorritsma said.

“I would hope that teachers feel a new sense of freedom, a sense of empowerment, and a sense of being able to focus on teaching the subject,” Jorritsma said.

The more parents know what’s going on in the classroom, the more transparent educators will be. Perhaps that reality lies at the heart of those who oppose parental notification.