At a recent RSU-14 school board meeting, several Windham and Raymond parents left outraged after a non-binary guidance counselor from a nearby public school district told them multiple times they would provide breast binders to minor female students without informing their parents.
Windham resident Ken Clark told the Maine Wire that guidance counselor Katherine Turpen, who was at the RSU-14 meeting, but who works for RSU-57, said several times during the meeting that they would provide a breast binder to his daughter and then withhold that information from him.
According to the email signature Turpen uses for their Massabesic schools email account, they are a counselor for freshman students and they prefer they/them/theirs pronouns.
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Clark, the father of a 13-year-old Windham Middle School student and another high school student, was questioning RSU-14 Superintendent Christopher Howell over the school system’s policy for withholding student healthcare information from parents.
Clark specifically mentioned the lawsuit filed against Damariscotta’s Great Salt Bay Community School in relation to a counselor who secretly provided a breast binder to a 13-year-old girl.
That lawsuit alleges multiple AOS 93 school officials intentionally took steps to conceal from the girl’s mother the medical treatment a conditionally licensed social worker had provided to the girl, as well as aspects of a social gender transition in which multiple school officials participated.
As Howell and Clark discussed the Damariscotta case, Turpen interjected into the conversation to inform Clark that they would provide his daughter with a breast binder without informing him, along the lines of what happened in Damariscotta.
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“I think she wanted to get into the conversation because she heard I was talking about counselors and she was one of them,” said Clark.
“As soon as she advised me she was a counselor I said, OK. So would you put my kid in a chest binder? She replied, yes I would,” said Clark.
“I said, what are you kidding me, you’re telling me right now that you would put a chest binder on my child without me knowing. She said yes. Then I said you’ve got to be effing kidding me what the eff is going on in this place are you actually serious, you do that? And she said, yes,” he said.
Three separate witnesses confirmed Clark’s account of the incident.
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Turpen said at least three times that they would would provide the medical device to minor students and conceal the fact from parents, according to witnesses present for the conversation.
Breast binders are controversial medical devices that compress young women’s chests in order to conceal the appearance of breasts. They are often used as part of a social gender transition and may precede hormone therapies or sex-change surgeries. Advocacy groups, such as Out Maine, have programs to secretly send out free breast binders to young women who are gender confused. If the devices aren’t worn properly, they can cause serious health complications.
It’s unclear what would qualify Turpen to provide a 13-year-old girl with a medical device or to diagnose a medical condition.
In Damariscotta, the young girl was given a breast binder by Samuel Roy, a conditionally licensed social worker who was still finishing a graduate program at the University of Maine.
But a search of Maine’s occupational licensing database reveals that Turpen does not have a license to practice social work. They are also not licensed as a counseling professional.
Turpen says on their LinkedIn page that they completed a Bachelor’s Degree program at the University of Maine at Farmington in 2015, where they majored in History and Secondary Education. The profile also says they attended the University of Vermont, though it does not say whether they earned further certifications related to counseling or social work.
Turpen did not respond to a request for an interview.
“My career aspirations are to incorporate play therapy modalities with an elementary or middle school population, working with students experiencing grief and loss, and engaging in aspiring ally-ship with the LGBTQIA+ community,” Turpen writes in their LinkedIn bio.
A video provided to the Maine Wire captured part of the meeting — after the dispute between Clark and Turpen — that shows parents at the end angrily asking board members to address Turpen’s earlier remarks.
“I was sitting quite close to the stage area when Ken Clark asked the Superintendent, Chris Howell to have a conversation. Ken brought up the counselor from Damariscotta providing a chest binder to a female student without the parents knowledge,” said Lynn Southwick.
In an email, Southwick said the following: “Kate Turpen proceeded to interject herself into the conversation that she was not asked to join into. When she joined the conversation, Mr. Clark asked who she was. She stated she was a counselor in another school district. Mr. Clark then asked her if she would provide a chest binder to his daughter if she asked her to. In which she replied, “Yes”. Mr. Clark then proceeded to ask her again if she would provide a chest binder to his daughter if she went to see her stating she was confused about her gender. Again, Ms,. Turpen stated she would. Mr. Clark repeatedly asked her the same question and repeatedly she responded, “Yes”. The conversation proceeded to get heated and everyone was asked to sit down.”
“I’m horrified that a counselor in any school district would give any device of such to a student without a parent’s knowledge,” she said. “It’s disturbing at the very least.”
“Kate repeated multiple times that she would put chest binders on children without parental consent,” said Justin Whynot, another attendee at the meeting who has children in the district.
Another attendee, Joe Grant, also confirmed that he heard Turpen’s comments about breast binders.
School officials at both RSU-57 and RSU-14 were reluctant to speak to Turpen’s comments.
RSU 57 Assistant Superintendent of Schools Kyle Keenan said in an email that the school district does not have a policy that instructs school employees to include or exclude parents from matters relating to student healthcare.
“[T]here is no school board policy relating to the withholding of student information from their parents or guardians,” Keenan said in an email.
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Keenan said the district expects all employees at the Massabesic schools to adhere to policies.
RSU 14 Superintendent Christopher Howell did not respond to an inquiry about the district’s policies around breast binders and parental involvement in student healthcare matters.
A review of both districts’ online policies found no policies related to the provision of gender transitioning equipment or sex-change counseling.
While neither RSU-57 nor RSU-14 have explicit policies about providing medical devices to students, both have policies concerning the provision of over-the-counter medications, like Tylenol.
Both districts require parents and/or guardians to fill out paperwork annually in order to allow the school nurse to offer a student over-the-counter medications.
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In recent years, Maine’s public schools have increasingly focused on bringing gender identity-based instruction into K-12 classrooms.
This has included explicit instruction about gender ideology, extracurricular clubs focused on gender identity theory, student surveys that ask about gender, and hallway decor educating students on the multiplicity of new genders adherents to the theory believe in.
At the same time, the percentage of Maine public school students who identify as the opposite sex or one of the new genders has increased sharply.
As a result, more and more schools have attempted to develop policies around bathroom use, school sports, and other accommodations for those who identify as a gender different than the sex listed on their birth certificate.
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Central to these policy debates is the question of whether and when parents should be informed that their child is expressing signs of gender dysphoria or gender confusion.
Currently, Maine has no clear statewide policy that compels schools to include parents in such conversations. Nor is there a policy that requires them to be excluded.
Progressive school officials and LGBT activists argue that parents should be excluded from the diagnosis and treatment of gender dysphoria and gender confusion because informing parents could lead to physical or emotional abuse of the child. They argue that social workers and counselors like Turpen and Roy can be trusted more to handle students delicate emotional and gender-related needs.
On the other hand, parental rights advocates argue that a child’s parents or legal guardians are best situated to make decisions related to a young person healthcare and education and that they should always be included in such conversations.