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Controversy erupts at middle school over how teachers should address students

<i>WPVI</i><br/>School officials describe it as an informal expectation
School officials describe it as an informal expectation

By Walter Perez

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    DOYLESTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) — A controversy has erupted at Lenape Middle School in Bucks County over how teachers must address their students, specifically students who don’t identify with their gender at birth.

The controversial district-wide policy became an issue at the middle school recently when teachers were reportedly told by school officials not to refer to students by their preferred pronouns unless the parents were made aware.

Marlene Pray is a Central Bucks School District parent and local community organizer who says the district’s informal policy risks “outing” students who are contending with gender identity issues, or, in effect, keeping them in the closet.

“It’s not legally defensible, it’s not morally defensible, it’s certainly not academically defensible — it’s cruelty,” said Pray.

But officials from the district say the opposite is true.

They describe it as an informal expectation, not a written policy, designed to make sure parents are aware of a child’s request to be addressed by a different name or pronoun.

Superintendent Dr. Abe Lucabaugh sent Action News a statement saying, “Parents are stakeholders in these matters, too. We talk with students about the importance of including parents in decisions like these, and we help prepare students for those conversations and also help facilitate them to reach an agreed-upon solution.”

Action News spoke with some Central Bucks parents who say the district’s directive simply puts young lives at risk.

“We’ve heard enough studies out there that say when LGBTQ people are left in the closet and not given a supportive environment, that there’s an increase in suicide, depression, and drug use,” said Jennifer Herring of Doylestown.

Others say excluding parents from such a deeply personal issue involving the kids is also risky.

“It is their child and legally they are responsible. And I think that if they don’t have information to work with, that’s not fair for them either,” said Madlyn Mahan of Warwick.

In Pennsylvania, an estimated 10,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 17 identify as transgender. That makes up about 1.3% of teenagers in that age group across the commonwealth.

That rate is more than double the rate of all adults who identify as transgender statewide.

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