“A school counselor or school social worker may not be required to divulge or release information gathered during a counseling relation with a client or with the parent, guardian or a person or agency having legal custody of a minor client.”
This sentence, already embedded in state statutes since 1989, created a major stir in Augusta this past week when it was included in a new set of Maine Department of Education rules, Chapter 117: “Rules Regarding the Duties of School Counselors and School Social Workers.”
By definition, this is a “major and substantive” rule which must be approved by a vote of the State Legislature before it becomes permanent. The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee heard public testimony on a bill to adopt the rule.
The attention paid to this otherwise mundane rule-making process was due to stories from Maine schools that accused educators of conspiring with students both to take steps toward changing the child’s gender and keeping these actions from their parents.
At Winslow High School, a counselor sent an email to her team members asking for assistance for a female student who wanted to be referred to by a male name and by the pronouns he/they. She asked that her fellow educators not share his information outside of school because, “their parents are not there yet,” implying that the student’s family was not yet enlightened enough to be trusted with this information about their child.
Also this past week, the mother of a 13-year-old child who had been enrolled at the Great Salt Bay Community School in Newcastle/Damariscotta, filed suit against the school accusing it of helping the child to begin a transition from female to male while intentionally hiding their actions from the mother. Specifically, the mother says, a school social worker who was not yet fully licensed, encouraged school staff to begin using male pronouns in addressing her daughter and secretly supplied her with a “chest binder” used to hide the growth of breasts.
One does not have to be an expert in clinical psychological to wonder if helping a troubled 13-year-old conceal their gender with a physical appliance only reinforces the shame she feels about her circumstances rather than efforts that might help her feel more comfortable with the person she is. When an adult provides a chest binder it tells the child, “You’re right. You should be ashamed, and I’ll help you hide it.” This is the farthest thing from the responsibility of school-based education.
This 26-year-old social worker and former Public Relations Officer for the “Wilde Stein: Queer Straight Alliance,” chose to facilitate the student’s dramatic, life-changing act without knowledge of the student’s medical history including her mental health, whether she was the survivor of some damaging personal event as a younger child, or whether the advice he was giving the student might conflict in a dangerous way with her continuing care under a licensed psychiatrist outside of school. The actions taken by the social worker and other school officials are now the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by the student’s mother that may provide more clarity as to the rights of parents to know about their child’s issues at school.
A school is not a hospital, nor a medical clinic. When a child is in need of health care, including psychological counseling, it is the responsibility of that child’s parents to decide upon and seek out that treatment. This is not the responsibility of an educator. To the extent that a school employee feels a child is in need of counseling or other treatment, they should make the parents aware and then allow them to make the decisions as to what is the proper course of action for their child.
If a child falls at school and breaks an ankle, the school does not have the right to take the child to a hospital and consent to surgical intervention without notifying a parent. In the same way, the mental health treatment of a child should be guided and governed by those whom the law has given that responsibility. What if a child enrolled in a school becomes pregnant, and the parents aren’t “there” yet? Should a school counselor be allowed to conspire to keep this information from her parents?
A recent Portland Press Herald article described the results of numerous interviews with school officials on the subject of gender transitioning and reported that “many said they thought it was important for students to be able to use their chosen identities and be themselves in school without fear of being ‘outed’ to their parents before they are ready to talk about their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Codifying in rule the notion that parents should be excluded from significant mental health issues involving their children is just one of many new policies implemented or advocated for by the Maine DOE. Recently, DOE Commissioner Pender Makin told the Legislature’s Education Committee that “Academic learning is definitely going to take a back seat to all of these other pieces.”
Among these “other pieces” is something called Social Emotional Learning (SEL). A video on the Maine DOE website claims that “SEL Can Be Thought of As Healthy Humaning.” The phrase “Healthy Humaning” does not appear in any scholarly study, paper, or journal article. Instead, it is a marketing ploy created by twenty-something Deana (pronounced Day-on-ah) Tanner, a “human connection coach” in Virginia who refers to herself as the Healthy Humaning Institute. Her website is little more than an advertisement for her services as a coach who, for around $100 per hour will perform an “Underpinning Audit” or for $600 will provide “Voxer Coaching” a text/voice chat service to provide ongoing support.
If that is not your vibe, then Tanner is also a self-proclaimed expert on polyamory who, for a fee, of course, will show you the value of “Stepping out on monogamy,” among other virtues. She recently posted on TikTok the launch of her new effort, “Queer Amory: The Society for Empowered Interpersonal Growth.” This, she acknowledges, is not really a society but rather, “just me and a friend of mine who’s graciously offered to help.”
This, and not scientifically tested and proven methods of teaching mathematics, science, and reading are now driving Maine’s educational system, while the things that will help students to be successful in adulthood and, by extension, make our state more prosperous and viable, will “take a back seat.”
As it stands now, Maine’s public education system is dooming our kids to a lifetime of poverty and intermittent employment.
Raising the level of knowledge and understanding of reading, science, and especially math, should be the primary goal of the DOE. This is especially critical following three years of sub-par learning caused by the pandemic. As it stands now, Maine’s public education system is dooming our kids to a lifetime of poverty and intermittent employment to say nothing about the impact on our future economy when employers choose to locate elsewhere in search of a more adaptive workforce.
Our society and our modern workforce rely on computer programming. The ordering kiosks at fast food restaurants, ATM machines, iPhones, automatic doors, the future is here now, and it is everywhere. Bulldozers and lumber skidders now use GPS satellite connections that manage the controls of these machines to make them more accurate and efficient. These need to be developed, installed, and maintained by workers who understand technology. Want to become a mechanic? Today’s automobiles have more than one thousand microchips on board, controlling nearly every function of the car, including driving, in a growing number of vehicles.
If they are to succeed in the workforce they will encounter in 15-20 years, every public school student in Maine should have begun to master the basic elements of computer coding, for example, before they reached high school. That’s difficult to do when two-thirds of our current students cannot master basic math skills at any grade level or when 80% of the activity on state-provided laptops and tablets is social media and word processing.
Instead of applying the full effort of the DOE toward moving Maine students ahead of their peers in other states by finding new, innovative, and fun ways to engage them in math, reading, and science, the department has chosen to push these critical learning subjects to the background in favor of a collection of new age ideas and programs that will do little to prepare students to become successful in the future workforce.
Rather than making math experts out of as many students as possible, for example, Falmouth High School recently spent an inordinate amount of time fussing over the horrors—no pun intended—of Halloween. This latest waste of time began when school officials sent out a missive that read, “Falmouth Public Schools does not celebrate Halloween. Halloween costumes, decorations, and parties do not have a place in our schools, for the reason that Halloween is a non-inclusive holiday with religious origins.”
Just four words into the tirade, there’s a grammatical error. The plural “schools” requires the plural form of the verb “do” not “does.”
Then there’s ”non-inclusive.” Who ever got excluded by Halloween? It is specifically about pretending to become whoever you choose for a day. Whatever its origins—and let’s face it, almost no one who dresses up funny on the last day of October has any idea what those are—what was once All Souls Eve has long since evolved into a day each year when people can dress up, act silly, and express themselves artistically in ways they cannot on any other day.
Also, how is banning Halloween a demonstration of support for “all of our families,” as the notice describes it. I think it is safe to assume that a parent who lets their third grader leave for the school bus dressed as Batman—Bat-they?— is all-in for this Halloween stuff, especially since they likely bought or made little Jeffy’s costume. Are there easily offended vampire families in Falmouth we haven’t heard about? Is there perhaps a small colony of superheroes living on the Foreside who have a problem with their culture being appropriated by non-super children?
Are Falmouth students permitted to wear a cross necklace? Must they show a Christian ID when they do to prove they are not appropriating someone else’s culture? What of the yarmulka on Jewish holy days or a Muslim hijab any day? These are all, by modern definitions, exclusionary in that they are only worn by people of certain beliefs. Further, the superintendent’s dishonesty in denying the policy until a Freedom of Access Act filing revealed documents that proved otherwise, is a terrible example for students.
Further, the commitment of the Mills administration to these new agendas became terrifyingly clear when parents in Damariscotta, including the mother who has filed the suit, learned they were being investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services, the state agency with the power to remove children from their parents. The subject of the investigation was listed as “Emotional Abuse,” and though the investigation “does not support findings of abuse and/or neglect” the message was sent clearly. Those who doubt this administration would react harshly against those who failed to comply with its policies need only speak to the former owner of the Sunday River Brewing Company who lost his business, or the former Huiskamer Coffee House in Augusta whose owners closed and left the state after being subject to thuggery by their state government.
Schools should not be a minefield of anxiety in which students are constantly told they are wrong, should be regretful, and live in constant fear of offending someone at any moment because of a set of political ideas held by their educators. These should be environments where youngsters are encouraged to express themselves without fear, be forgiven their mistakes, and interact freely with fellow students and educators. Creating a barrier between them and their parents creates an environment of secrecy, dishonesty, and mistrust that may stay with them a lifetime.