A Winslow High School guidance counselor may have violated the school’s policies when she broadcast news of a students gender transition to an “all staff” email list while at the same time urging her colleagues to keep the news a secret from the student’s parents.
Leeann Marin, a counselor at Winslow High School, said in an email to an unknown number of her colleagues that a student, whose name has been redacted from the records, told her that same morning they wanted to go by a different name and be referred to with he/they pronouns.
“They wish this to only be at school as their parents are not there yet,” Marin said in the email, without specifying where “there” was.
[RELATED: Maine’s High School Students Are Far More Likely Than Peers to Identify as LGBT. Why?…]
A few hours later, Marin again emailed the group to retract her previous name-change and pronoun instructions.
“I may have acted too fast without clearly understanding the new policy,” she wrote. “We met with the student and explained the policy and rights a little more clearly.”
“At this time the student has requested that we hold off until further notice,” she said.
A source familiar with the email said Marin sent the communication to a staff list that contains 86 addresses, including teachers, janitors, and other district employees — yet it’s not clear whether the parents were every informed of the situation with their child.
Rather than contact the districts’ parents directly, like the school did with a recent unrelated police incident, the school administrators posted a statement to the school’s website addressing the policy violation.
In that Jan. 9 statement, Superintendent Peter Thiboutot said the school board had recently ratified changes to the schools policies regarding transgender and “gender expansive” students, though he did not specify what those changes were.
But he did seem to indirectly address the issue of Marin inadvertently outing a student to the entire school with an email that strongly suggested she wanted to engage in a conspiracy to conceal the information from the student’s parents.
“[P]arents will be, and always have been, a part of the process when discussing a possible plan to support students that identify as transgendered (sic) or gender expansive,” he wrote.
That statement doesn’t align with the policy document Thiboutot shared in the same post.
The policy document states that parents will only be notified about a student requesting transgender accommodations if the student approves. The policy contains no requirement to notify parents when a student requests to be referred to with different pronouns or indicates that they are suffering from gender dysphoria.
The Maine Wire contacted Winslow Superintendent Peter Thiboutot regarding Marin’s email. In response, Thiboutot said he would be investigating to find out how the Maine Wire got the email, which was posted to social media last month.
“I do not know how this occurred but we will be investigating the incident and will take such steps as are warranted to address this,” said Thiboutot.
The Maine Wire twice asked whether the parents of the student in question had been informed that a school counselor broadcast their child’s request for a social gender transition to more than 80 school employees — an act that would appear to violate the child’s rights under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which says a student’s personal information can only be shared for legitimate educational purposes.
Thiboutot did not respond.
Although Thiboutot said in his original email that “we do not “hide” anything from parents,” it’s unclear at this point whether the school has informed the parents of the student in question that their child asked to begin a social gender transition. It’s also not clear whether Thiboutot informed the parents of the apparent violation of the child’s rights under FERPA.
The events described in Marin’s email shoot to the core of a policy debate unfolding in many Maine schools.
For more than a year, school boards and administrators have grappled with how to deal with the rising cases of gender dysphoria and gender confusion among students, especially at the middle school and high school levels.
In the Oxford Hills School District, board members attempted to enact a policy that would have required school employees to keep information about student mental health secret from parents in some cases.
That policy would have even required school staff to coach students on how to avoid changing school records in a way that might inadvertently allow parents to discover that their child was suffering from gender dysphoria or gender confusion.
Marin’s emails suggest such coaching is occuring at Winslow, even in the absence of a policy formally requiring it.
In the AOS 93 school system in Damariscotta, Great Salt Bay Community School administrators are dealing with a controversy of their own after the school began a social gender transition for a 13-year-old girl without informing the parents.