In February 2022, teachers at Eau Claire Area School District participated in training on topics including gender identity, safe spaces, and equity. The news outlet Wisconsin Spotlight previously reported that the training involved a slide explaining to teachers that “parents are not entitled to know their kids’ identities.” Parents Defending Education has now received additional material from concerned community members that the school district used in training teachers.
The school district provided teachers with a two-part video presentation called “Safe Space.” The hosts of the video presentation started the first video by providing their preferred pronouns. The hosts then provided four statements with teachers answering how much they identify with each one. [Time Stamp: 3:00] The statements were:
- I am comfortable with LGBTQIA+ terminology.
- I understand each identity represented by the LGBTQIA+ acronym.
- I am aware of LGBTQIA+ issues and concerns.
- I feel comfortable interrupting bigotry and discrimination toward LGBTQIA+ people.
The hosts of the presentation taught participants about the idea of “cathartic discomfort.” [Time Stamp: 5:50] The hosts then let participants know that they should anticipate discomfort and had participants think about what may make them feel discomfort. The presentation offered the following statement as to why participants may feel discomfort: “My religion has very specific feelings about LGBTQ+ people. Challenging my beliefs makes me anxious and uneasy.”
Another topic in the presentation was the “evolution” of “identity and language.” [Time Stamp: 10:50] A slide in the video presentation stated: “What you know today WILL change tomorrow. There is no one size fits all approach to language. It is dynamic, flexible, and ever-changing. Change with it!” Participants were asked later in the presentation to then discuss “a time you had to hide or alter an aspect of your identity in order to succeed and/or survive.” [Time Stamp: 17:00]
The hosts of the presentation also showed a slide titled “The Genderbread Person” for participants to analyze. [Time Stamp: 40:00] The slide used a gingerbread man to discuss “gender identity,” “gender expression,” “biological sex,” sexual attraction, and romantic attraction. A host of the presentation specifically said the “genderbread person” will help participants in dealing with “students.”
The second video of the presentation started with the topic “Queer People and United States Law.” (Time Stamp: 0:35) The hosts of the presentation discussed “sexual orientation laws” throughout the world. The hosts also discussed “Minority Stress Theory.” (Time Stamp: 4:30) A slide in the presentation stated that the idea of the theory is that “people who are members of a group that is stigmatized by mainstream society are more vulnerable to psychological and physical stress.” The hosts discussed that LGBTQ students also face discrimination from “religious communities.”
The hosts then praised states that mandate schools to teach LGBTQ topics in classrooms from kindergarten through high school while condemning the majority of states that don’t. [Time Stamp: 9:50] The hosts then push for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to be taught in schools. The hosts also had participants discuss teachers gaining trust with “LGBTQ+ youth.” [Time Stamp: 17:20] The topic’s slide in the presentation stated: “That said, teachers often find themselves in positions of trust with LGBTQ+ youth, because they cannot seek solace and support from their parents (see Minority Stress Theory). How might you strategize the support of your LGBTQ+ students, without the support of their parents?” One host called parents disagreeing with their children on LGBTQ issues “abuse”:
We understand and acknowledge that teachers are often put in terrible positions caught between parents and their students. But much like we wouldn’t act as stand-ins for abuse in other circumstances, we cannot let parents’ rejection of their children guide teachers’ reactions and actions and advocacy for our students. [Time Stamp: 18:23]
The hosts also discussed “pronouns” in the presentation. [Time Stamp: 25:45] The hosts then played a video that stated calling someone the wrong pronoun is “misgendering.” The hosts also encouraged participants to “integrate pronouns” into their “email signatures,” “nametags,” “business cards,” “syllabus language,” “office forms,” “meeting/class introductions,” and “website/program bios.” [Time Stamp: 31:40] The slide in the presentation also stated that “it is particularly important for cisgender people to engage inclusive pronoun use.”
The hosts also encouraged participants to discuss how they would handle other teachers who disagreed with students coming out as transgender and using different names and pronouns. [Time Stamp: 40:30] The following scenario was used for participants to discuss:
You’re eating lunch in the staff lounge. A group of teachers are chit-chatting about students, and you overhear one of your colleagues saying, “Get this. Simone just came to me after class and told me she’s now going by Simon. She’s using male pronouns, and her parents are apparently okay with it. I mean, they may be supportive, but it’s my classroom. I’m not about to confuse the entire class. They’re kids, for crying out loud.” How do you respond?
The following guidance was then given to participants on a slide [Time Stamp: 41:35]:
- Use whichever terminology an individual prefers (e.g., identity, pronouns, name, etc.). It isn’t up to you who someone else is.
- Reach out for additional information; there are OODLES of resources out there!
- Do not ask someone about their genitals. Just don’t. Rude.
- Do not ask about someone’s deadname.
- Remember: Sexual orientation, gender identity, and assigned sex are not choices we make. We do, however, choose how to react to difference.
The presentation ended with a host encouraging participants “to vote, to demonstrate, to protest, to listen, to intervene, and above all else, of course, to love.” [Time Stamp: 48:35]
The following slides were used by the hosts of the “Safe Space” presentation:
The following was a document that served as a facilitator guide for the “Safe Space” presentation:
The school district had supplemental materials for teachers from the “Safe Space” presentation. One document was a “Safe Space Quiz” with questions that appeared to guide participants to view and think about issues in a certain way. Participants had to answer “false” to the statement that “assigned sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation are complex identities chosen by an individual based on their lived experiences.” Participants also had to answer “false” to the statement that “acknowledging one’s power and privilege neutralizes any oppression they experience.” The last question on the quiz was about “successful queer activism.”
The school district also provided a training presentation for teachers on “microaggressions.” PDE was provided with a video that served as a facilitator guide before the presentation was given to teachers. The host of the facilitator guide video stated that she is personally “working on using non-gendered language so not saying ‘you guys’ [and] not referring to people by ‘she’ or ‘her’ or ‘he’ or ‘him’ pronouns if I don’t have to.” [Time Stamp: 9:35]
The school district provided teachers with a two-part video presentation titled “Microaggressions.” In the first video of the presentation, the hosts provided four statements with teachers answering how much they identify with each one. [Time Stamp: 4:50] The statements were:
- I am confident using terminology related to microaggressions.
- I am prepared to be confronted about my biases and microaggressions.
- I can recognize microaggressions when they happen.
- I can address microaggressions in my daily life.
A slide from the presentation described microaggressions as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” [Time Stamp: 7:25]
The hosts of the presentation also split microaggressions into three categories that were “microinsults,” “microinvalidations,” and “microassaults.” [Time Stamp: 8:30] A slide from the presentation provided the following definitions for the terms:
- Microinsults: Verbal and nonverbal communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity as well as demean a person. Microinsults are often unconscious behaviors.
- Microinvalidations: Communications that subtly exclude, negate, or nullify the thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a marginalized person. Microinvalidations are often unconscious acts.
- Microassualts: Conscious and intentional biased beliefs, actions, or slurs. These are usually expressed covertly or overtly towards marginalized group. Microassaults are usually conscious acts.
The hosts of the presentation then played a video titled “Microaggressions Against White People?” [Time Stamp: 9:25] The video had individuals asking white people why they don’t have a “Swedish accent” or asking why they don’t don’t “speak German.” Characters in the video also discussed “white culture.” Another video the hosts played was titled “Just Stop Talking About Race.” [Time Stamp: 7:35] The video had a person supporting the idea of pushing race and racism into the discussions of important issues. The person in the video also attacked people who support the idea of looking at others in a “colorblind” manner that does not focus on race. The hosts of the presentation also played a video titled “Sh*t Homophobic People Say.” [Time Stamp: 23:00]
The hosts provided examples of microaggressions against “LGBTQIA+” people. [Time Stamp: 30:55] The phrases were:
- Isn’t it just a phase?
- I love you, but I don’t love your sin.
- I don’t think LGBTQ+ people are entitled to special rights.
- I knew you were gay!
The second video of the presentation consisted of participants being separated into groups to discuss scenarios involving microaggressions. The first question involved a teacher having a student who “refuses to even try to use ‘they, them, their’ pronouns.” [Time Stamp: 0:40] The question asked:
There is a transgender student in your class and the students in your class continually use gendered pronouns. You know the student has requested ‘they, them, their’ pronouns. One student in particular refuses to even try to use ‘they, them, their’ pronouns. How do you address this issue?
The second question asked participants a question involving a microaggression with a black student with a “new hair style”:
A Black student in your class has a new hair style and students keep touching her hair. The student doesn’t say anything to the other students, but you can tell that the Black student is annoyed. What should you do? [Time Stamp: 2:30]
The last question asked participants how they would handle a teacher mispronouncing a student’s name:
One of your fellow teachers repeatedly mispronounces the name of one of their students. You have heard this many times and you know it must bother them. How do you address this situation with your colleague? [Time Stamp: 4:20]
The following slides were used by the hosts of the “Microaggressions” presentation:
One document that PDE received as supplemental to the “Microaggressions” presentation was titled “Responding to Microaggressions and Bias.” The document offered alternatives to people making comments that are perceived as microaggressions. If confronted with a microaggression, the document offers suggestions to handle the situation including “acknowledge the feelings behind the statement,” “challenge the stereotype,” and “appeal to values and principles.”
Another document supplementing the “Microaggressions” presentation was titled “Tool: Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send.” The document included several themes “to which microaggressions are attached.” One example of a microaggression in the document was described as “being forced to choose between Male or Female when completing basic forms.” The following were themes and examples of microaggressions listed in the document:
- Alien in One’s Own Land: When Asian Americans, Latino Americans and others who look different or are named differently from the dominant culture are assumed to be foreign-born.
- Example: A person asking an Asian American or Latino American to teach them words in their native language.
- Ascription of Intelligence: Assigning intelligence to a person of color or a woman based on his/her race/gender.
- Color Blindness: Statements that indicate that a White person does not want to or need to acknowledge race.
- Example: “America is a melting pot.”
- Criminality/Assumption of Criminal Status: A person of color is presumed to be dangerous, criminal, or deviant based on his/her race.
- Denial of Individual Racism/Sexism/Heterosexism: A statement made when bias is denied.
- Myth of Meritocracy: Statements which assert that race or gender does not play a role in life successes, for example in issues like faculty demographics.
- Example: “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
- Pathologizing Cultural Values/Communication Styles: The notion that the values and communication styles of the dominant/White culture are ideal/”normal.”
- Example: Dismissing an individual who brings up race/culture in work/school setting.
- Second-Class Citizen: Occurs when a target group member receives differential treatment from the power group; for example, being given preferential treatment as a consumer over a person of color.
- Sexist/Heterosexist Language: Terms that exclude or degrade women and LGBT persons.
- Example: Being forced to choose between Male or Female when completing basic forms.
- Traditional Gender Role Prejudicing and Stereotyping: Occurs when expectations of traditional roles or stereotypes are conveyed.
Another document was titled “Examples of Microaggressions in the Classroom.” The document listed numerous examples of perceived microaggressions that occur in schools. The following were examples listed in the document:
- Assigning student tasks or roles that reinforce particular gender roles or don’t allow all students flexibility across roles and responses.
- Anticipating students’ emotional responses based on gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity.
- Using the term “illegals” to reference undocumented immigrants.
- Using heteronormative metaphors or examples in class.
- Assuming the gender of any student.
- Continuing to misuse pronouns even after a student, transgender or not, indicates their preferred gender pronoun.
- Featuring pictures of students of only one ethnicity or gender on the school website.
- Having students engage in required reading where the protagonists are always white.
Facilitators also appeared to provide participants with a “Microaggressions Self Pre-Assessment” quiz before the “Microaggressions” presentation started. The participants had to answer how they felt about the following statements:
- I am confident in using terminology related to microaggressions.
- I am prepared to be confronted about my microaggressions and biases.
- I can recognize microaggressions where they happen.
- I can address microaggressions in my daily life.
The school district also provided teachers with a presentation titled “Identity, Privilege and Systems of Oppression” that PDE received in a two-part video. In the first video of the presentation, one of the hosts stated that “we often have to unlearn things [and] we have to embrace discomfort.” [Time Stamp: 3:40] The hosts also displayed a graphic that showed perceived “identity dimensions.” The graphic then expanded to “internal dimensions,” “community dimensions,” “social life experiences dimensions,” and “institutional dimensions.” [Time Stamp: 5:35] Some of the examples in the “internal dimensions” category included “age,” “gender,” “sex,” “sexual orientation,” and “race.”
The hosts of the presentation discussed another graphic labeled as the “Social Identity Wheel.” [Time Stamp 7:30] In the center of the wheel were four statements: “Identities you think about most often,” “identities you think about least often, “your own identities you would like to learn more about,” and “identities that have the strongest effect on how you see yourself as a person.” The wheel was also surrounded by terms including “ethnicity,” “gender,” “sexual orientation,” and “race.” Participants were asked to think about the identities they possess and fill out a document of the graphic to identify the identities they think about the most often and the least. Participants were also encouraged to partner with another colleague to discuss the results.
In the second video of the presentation, the hosts attempted to teach the idea to teachers that “identity” is not binary. [Time Stamp: 0:15] To prove that point, the hosts provided three questions to participants with “yes” or “no” being the only answers provided. The following questions were asked:
- People are either old or young.
- People are either rich or poor.
- People are either able-bodied or have a disability.
The idea was that the statements were hard to identify as “yes” or “no” and that the same should apply to gender. The hosts then played a video titled “Power Privilege and Oppression.” [Time Stamp: 2:00] The video described it as “painful” for people who are “transgender” to be assigned a gender at birth. The comment was made when discussing children using male or female restrooms at school. The video also appeared to attack the idea that most people in the United States speak English. The video played by the hosts even appeared to push participants to act as political activists. The narrator of the video stated:
Since social inequities occur predominantly to communities of color, social transformation requires, among other things, a mobilization of identity. Social movements based in identity such as the black liberation movement, the Chicano Movement, and the women’s rights movement harnessed identity by educating people about social structural inequality and its impact on them. In this way, social movements can create an educated counter narrative. [Time Stamp: 6:20]
At one point in the presentation, a host appeared to target Christianity. The host stated that an example of privilege was how “we have a Christian-normative academic calendar” and how “Christian high holidays are prioritized and we don’t even think about it because our academic calendar is built around it.” [Time Stamp: 12:20] The hosts then asked participants to discuss the following three questions in small groups:
- What are one or more ways in which you have had unearned disadvantage in your life?
- What are one or more ways in which you have had unearned advantage in your life?
- What is it like for you to sit here, talk about, and hear about these experiences of unearned disadvantage and advantage?
The next topic in the presentation was “oppression.” The hosts then displayed a chart of perceived “privilege” and “oppression.” [Time Stamp: 15:10] The chart categorized “white people,” “heterosexual people,” “gender conforming (cis) bio men and women,” “temporarily able-bodied people,” “protestants,” and “native-born United States citizens” as “privileged social groups.” The chart then categorized “Asian, black, Latinx, indigenous people,” “lesbian, gay, asexual people,” “transgender, gender-queer, intersex people,” “people with disabilities,” “Muslims, Jews, atheists, Hindus,” and “undocumented immigrants” as oppressed “targeted social groups.”
The following slides were used by the hosts of the “Identity, Privilege and Systems of Oppression” presentation:
One supplemental document used to train teachers in privilege was titled “The White Privilege Test.” The test asked 26 questions with participants answering “yes” or “no.” After participants answered the questions, the test asked: “If you answered more than 13 out of 26, have you considered that White Privilege may play a role in your life?” The following are a few questions asked by the test:
- I can be sure that no matter where I move to my neighbors in that location will be pleasant or neutral to me.
- I can go shopping alone and be sure that I won’t be followed or harassed.
- I can be sure that my children will be taught a curriculum which testifies to the existence of their race.
- I can go into a shop and easily find the food, music or clothes which represent my race or fit with my cultural traditions.
- I can count on my skin colour not to work against the appearance of my financial reliability.
- I can do well professionally without being called a credit to my race.
- If a police officer stops me I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
- I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers suspect that I got it because of race.
- At school and university I could be sure that most of my teachers were the same colour or race as me.
Another supplemental document used to train teachers in privilege was titled “The Four ‘I’s’ of Oppression.” The document listed four perceived categories of oppression that were “Ideological Oppression,” “Institutional Oppression,” “Interpersonal Oppression,” and “Internalized Oppression.” The document described “Ideological Oppression” as “any oppressive system has at its core the idea that one group is somehow better than another, and in some measure has the right to control the other group.”
The document described “Institutional Oppression” as when “the idea that one group is better than another group and has the right to control the other gets embedded in the institutions of the society–the laws, the legal system and police practice, the education system and schools, hiring policies, public policies, housing development, media images, political power, etc.” The document then provided examples:
When a woman makes two thirds of what a man makes in the same job, it is institutionalized sexism. When one out of every four African-American young men is currently in jail, on parole, or on probation, it is institutionalized racism. When psychiatric institutions and associations “diagnose” transgender people as having a mental disorder, it is institutionalized gender oppression and transphobia.
The document described “Interpersonal Oppression” as “the idea that one group is better than another and has the right to control the other, which gets structured into institutions, gives permission and reinforcement for individual members of the dominant group to personally disrespect or mistreat individuals in the oppressed group.” The document then provided a definition of “racism” as “RACISM = PREJUDICE + POWER.”
The document also described “Internalized Oppression” as “oppressed people [internalizing] the ideology of inferiority, they see it reflected in the institutions, they experience disrespect interpersonally from members of the dominant group, and they eventually come to internalize the negative messages about themselves.” The document continued to explain that “on the way to eliminating institutional oppression, each oppressed group has to undo the internalized beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that stem from the oppression so that it can build unity among people in its group, support its leaders, feel proud of its history, contributions, and potential, develop the strength to challenge patterns that hold the group back, and organize itself into an effective force for social change.”
An additional supplemental document on privilege was titled “Heterosexual Privilege Checklist.” The document appeared to provide statements that participants could check if the statement applied to them. At the end of the document was a place for participants to tally their scores to determine how privileged they were. Statements on this checklist included:
- If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, I can be certain my sexual orientation will be represented.
- I did not grow up with games that attack my sexual orientation (i.e., fag tag or smear the queer).
- I can be sure that my classes will require curricular materials that testify to the existence of people with my sexual orientation.
- I can easily find a religious community that will not exclude me for being my sexual orientation.
- I am guaranteed to find sex education literature for couples with my sexual orientation.
- Whether I rent or I go to a movie theater, I can be sure I will not have trouble finding my sexual orientation represented.
- I am guaranteed to find people of my sexual orientation represented in the UW-Eau Claire curriculum, faculty, and administration.
PDE also received a draft document titled “R-4 Citizens of a Diverse Community Summary of Compliance Status” for the school district. One question appears to ask if the school district is “compliant” in training students to be political activists:
Students will be prepared to contribute to the common good in a society that is local, national, and global; effectively engage with a diverse and multicultural community; and work with others to achieve positive change and justice.
Another question outright asks the school district if students are trained to participate in “enacting social justice”:
Students will take responsibility for their own actions and accept responsibility for creating positive change, contributing to a thriving community, and enacting social justice.
The document continues to ask if “there is an organized, engaged effort at each K-12 school to positively impact the school and greater Eau Claire community.” The document also asks the school district if “there is an organized, engaged, and results-based social justice club or similar structure at our high schools.“
PDE additionally received a letter that a former teacher from the school district wrote. This teacher explained that a female student told a guidance counselor that she now wanted to identify as a boy. As a result, several teachers were included in an email explaining that this girl now wanted to identify as a boy and that the teachers should specifically not tell the girl’s parents about her perceived gender identity. The teacher explained in the letter:
My breaking point this year was when I had a female student tell a guidance counselor that she now wanted to go by a boy’s name. There were THIRTY other staff members that were included on that email, and we were told to not tell the parents. Act like nothing happened if we needed to contact home. Could you imagine being a parent and finding out that thirty teachers are calling your girl a boy’s name and you knew nothing about it?
The teacher also stated that other “teachers cannot be trusted anymore.” The teacher stated later in the letter that some teachers in the school district even despise students who have opposing personal and political beliefs. She stated:
So many teachers say they are inclusive of everyone and say the right things. Last year I was talking with a colleague about a student that was added to one of my classes at semester break, and this colleague’s response was, “Ugh. I hate teaching that kid. He wears a trump mask and trump hoodie every day. I can’t stand him”. I was shocked. I loved the kid. A smart, respectful, hardworking young man. To despise a student because of their personal beliefs…seriously! I would be lying if that was the first time I had heard comments like that. It happens way more than you would think.