Parents Defending Education submitted a public records request seeking emails from Alcorn School District administrators and counselors on LGBTQ and transgender issues from 2020 to 2023. In one email dated March 5, 2021, the assistant superintendent let district staff know training courses were offered from the Jason Foundation if staff needed Continuing Education Units (CEUs). The assistant superintendent listed LGBT training as an option for district staff.
The Mississippi Department of Education explains the purpose of CEUs: “Teachers with standard certification in Mississippi hold a five-year renewable certificate. These licenses must be renewed every five years with Continuing Education Units (CEUs) or college coursework or by completion of the National Board process earned during the validity period of the license.” The department further explains that “any Continuing Education Office at a college, university, or community/junior college is an accredited CEU granting agency.”
The assistant superintendent explained that if staff “attend 6 hours of any of those trainings during the 2020-2021 school year and scan the certificates to me, you would be eligible for .6 CEUs.” She then listed six online courses that staff could choose. The themes of the courses were mental health and suicide prevention. However, one course appeared to focus on affirming the identities of students who identify as LGBTQ. This course was titled “Supporting LGBT Students in Schools: Suicide Prevention Among LGBT Youth.” A 2022 report from the Heritage Foundation found that suicide rates likely climbed for transgender students when states increased youth access to affirming care.
This online course appeared to be offered by the Jason Foundation through the Itawamba Community College. The email included an application form from the college for participants. On December 28, 2022, after a teacher asked, the assistant superintendent explained that she “can do this again for you this year.”
PDE received another email from the assistant superintendent dated December 1, 2020, also promoting the Jason Foundation’s LGBT training course. She explained that the Mississippi School Safety Act of 2019 required district employees to participate in training on mental health and suicide prevention. She further explained:
For the 20-21 school year, the safety act states that school districts should ensure all school employees and personnel are trained once every two years. If you have school employees and personnel who do not have certificates of training from last year, are first year employees, or new to the district and do not have a previous certificate they can provide for you, you will need to make sure they are trained by Jan. 8th, 2021 and certificates are sent to me. Employees and Personnel include all cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers, teachers and administrators.
She said that staff could complete the training on their own or on the professional development day January 4. The Jason Foundation’s online course “Supporting LGBT Students in Schools: Suicide Prevention Among LGBT Youth” was listed as an option. PDE also received an email of the assistant superintendent promoting the training course on February 1, 2022.
PDE received numerous certificates of district staff completing Jason Foundation online courses. These certificates showed what courses the teachers completed. Some of the certificates showed district staff completing the LGBT online training course, including an elementary school teacher.
The Jason Foundation has a page online promoting the professional development training offered to schools, including the “Supporting LGBT Students in Schools: Suicide Prevention Among LGBT Youth” course. The organization appears to encourage teachers to affirm LGBTQ students by promoting the idea that not doing so will lead to “suicidal thoughts.” The Jason Foundation explains in the description of the course:
This training module examines how suicide affects the LGBTQ community. The school environment can have an enormous impact on a young person’s life. It is vitally important to ensure that schools make all students feel welcome and safe. LGBTQ students are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers.
In an email dated June 22, 2021, one employee of the district discussed using Newsela as reading material for students. However, this employee points out that Newsela “pushes several agendas.” She explained that she has used some of Newsela’s material but only after looking through it first:
NEWSELA was suggested last year from the district, I think, as a source of reading material. It does have some great articles; however, it also pushes several agendas. Just FYI. [Name redacted] has also noticed this. It is real world, but some parents might not like some of the material. Just thought I’d make you aware in case you weren’t. I have used some of their material but not without reading first.
The newsletter attached to the email is dated June 14, 2021. Topics in the newsletter included promoting LGBTQ issues in a positive manner, such as a “featured text” promoting “Celebrating Pride Month: LGBTQIA+ Victories Over the Last 10 Years.”