Parents Defending Education submitted a public records request to the Tupelo Public School District in Mississippi and received documents showing district administrators and counselors discussing transgender issues. One document PDE received is titled “THS Admin Meeting” and is dated November 19, 2021. The document is a plan that lists topics to be explored for what appears to be a meeting for administrators at Tupelo High School.
One topic in the document is listed as “Transgender Training.” The document does not specify if the high school’s administrators received “transgender training” or if the administrators discussed potential training for staff. The document was attached to an email PDE received of Tupelo High School’s principal.
PDE has redacted the names of district staff in documents to protect their privacy.
In an email that PDE received that is dated November 3, 2021, Tupelo Middle School’s lead counselor sent an email to the other counselors in the school with a document that “addresses the American School Counselor Association’s position statement on transgender/gender-nonconforming youth.” She continued to explain that she “will research TPSD policies to see if additional information is available.”
The document from the American School Counselor Association is titled “The School Counselor and Transgender/Gender-nonconforming Youth.” This document explains that “school counselors work to safeguard the well-being of transgender and gender-nonconforming youth.” The document states that “equal treatment for transgender and gender-nonconforming students” includes mandating staff using the preferred names and pronouns of students. The document states: “School staff should address students by their chosen name and pronouns that correspond to their gender identity, regardless of whether there has been a legal name change.”
The document also appears to encourage school staff to keep the gender identity of students a secret from parents. Common language to keep a student’s gender identity a secret from parents includes using only the legal name and sex-assigned pronouns of students when talking with parents and family, rather than the student’s chosen name and pronouns. The document states:
Transgender and gender-nonconforming students have the right to decide when, with whom and to what extent to share private information. When contacting the parent/guardian of a transgender or gender-nonconforming student, school staff should use the student’s legal name and the pronoun corresponding to the student’s assigned sex at birth, unless the student or parent/guardian has specified otherwise.
The document additionally explains that students should be able to use the restrooms and locker rooms that fit their preferred gender identity. The document states: “Students should be allowed to use the restroom in accordance with their gender identity.” The document then adds: “Locker-room usage should be determined using the guiding principles of safety and honoring the student’s gender identity and expression.”
In another email PDE obtained that is dated June 1, 2022, the “social emotional counselor” of Tupelo High School sent an email to other counselors in the school promoting a webinar from the American School Counselor Association titled “LGBTQ+ Legal Rights in Education.” In the email, she stated: “I’m going to try to listen to this if anyone else wants to too.” PDE found that the American School Counselor Association’s webinar on the topic is locked from the public and only accessible to members.
In an email dated June 17, 2022, an assistant principal of Tupelo High School sent an email to counselors within the school asking them if they had any questions regarding legal issues. He explained: “As a group, please develop a list of topics our legal counsel can help address that might be beneficial for you to have more information on.” He then specifically named “transgender students” as an example.
In another email from that same day, an assistant superintendent of the Tupelo Public School District elaborated further on the topic in an email sent to administrators. He explained that he will have someone “work on a presentation/handouts for questions/concerns your counselors may have as it pertains to legal issues that counselors may not be familiar with.” He then also mentioned “transgender students” as an example.
In an email dated September 10, 2020, a Tupelo High School counselor sent an email to Superintendent Rob Picou and an assistant superintendent about implementing a “mental health department.” A document titled “Proposal for Mental Health Positions” is then attached to the email. The proposal explains: “The reason for referral must constitute a mental health concern: severe anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, bi-polar disorder, gender identity disorder, etc.” Parents may not need to be involved in a referral for their children in the manner the proposal is worded. This quote is preceded by the sentence: “All referrals must come through either the school counselor or parent.”
The proposal additionally explains that a school therapist would be able to diagnose students within the school. The proposal states: “The school-based mental health therapist (SB-MHT) treats students and families as if they were in the mental health clinic setting including informed consent, intakes, assessments, consultations, diagnosing, and treatment planning.” The proposal suggests that this initiative could be funded by using COVID-19 funding received from the federal government.
In an email dated February 22, 2022, a speech-language pathologist in the school district discussed attending the “Midsouth speech conference in Memphis” with other speech-language pathologists in the district. A document is attached showing the workshops and events at the “Mid-South Conference on Communicative Disorders.” One event at this conference was titled “Speaking the Alphabet: Providing Inclusive and Informed LGBTQ+ Healthcare.”
On August 28, 2020, a district administrator sent an email to English teachers within the district that included a Mississippi-specific book list that “covers all grades levels for Secondary.” She explained: “Let me know if you see something that strikes your attention that we do not have access to in our Media Center. I am happy to see what I can do to get it for you.”
One book on this list is titled If I Was Your Girl. The book is about a male student transitioning to be a girl and falling in love with a boy. Another book on the list is titled Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History. The description of the book explains: “An illustrated and informative primer on the progressive social change movements of the last 60 years as told through the stories of 60 diverse female and non-binary leaders in those movements, from the Civil Rights Movement and Stonewall riots through today.”
PDE additionally received a “Hanover K12 Climate Survey” document from the school district. PDE did not receive evidence that the district used the survey. The document and the surveys within were created by the organization Hanover Research. Survey questions included in the document that appear to be aimed at students in the seventh grade to the twelfth grade ask if “students experience harassment or bullying” based on their “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression.” The same questions are also asked regarding staff.