Last night the Douglas County School District (DCSD) Board of Education adopted revisions to the Parent and Family Engagement Policy which focuses on the issue of “compelled” speech, raising concerns that the policy could be used to justify harassment against transgender students and staff in the district. 

“The Board recognizes the fundamental right of parents and guardians to raise their children in accordance with their own personal beliefs and convictions, to include ensuring students will not be compelled to share personal information or make statements about themselves, or regarding others, that conflict with their deeply held personal beliefs or circumstances,” notes a newly added paragraph. “To build trust with families and maintain their ability to make appropriate decisions regarding their children, the Board supports open communication and disclosure of information concerning their children’s health, identity, and education, to include parent access to educational materials when requested. The District will honor parental decisions to opt their children from selected instructional materials or activities per current District policy – Procedures to opt into or out of the use of selected resources and activities will be developed by the Superintendent.”

During the public comment section of last night’s meeting, supporters of the new revisions included Salem Media personality Deborah Flora and Colorado Parent Advocacy Network (CPAN) supporter Amy Windju, who during a past DCSD board meeting read, almost verbatim, an op-ed by Chris Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and a former member of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism’s (FAIR) Board of Advisors.

FAIR is the conservative activist group that has gained significant traction in Douglas County, with chapter leader Laureen Boll serving on DCSD’s Equity Advisory Council. Early versions of the revised policy included sections that appeared to be paraphrased from FAIR’s website.

A section of the first version of the revised policy
FAIR’s website.

FAIR’s Board of Advisors also includes noted anti-trans author Abigail Shrier, who relied on the debunked “rapid onset gender dysphoria” theory for her book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. Holly Horn, a Republican political operative and the campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner, and the Kids First slate of DCSD board candidates, noted in a Facebook post that the policy revisions would “ensure parents have a seat at the table in DCSD, will eliminate compelled speech (pronouns) in the district and will call for sex education to be opt in vs opt out.”

DCSD Director Susan Meek raised concerns about the potential liability that might arise from the policy. “If other students refuse to use the pronoun or intentionally misgender, that is a form of harassment,” she noted. “We would then be opening ourselves up to litigation. Not only is it wrong, but we would be opening ourselves up to litigation, so I think when we put language in here like this, we need to think deeply about how we have respectful classrooms, so everyone is respected, no one is above anyone else. We are looking to respect every single student and teacher, and we have heard over and over from our community that we are struggling with homophobic slurs in the classroom, and racial slurs, and other forms of bullying, and I would ask us to think deeply about the language that we are using so we are respecting and honoring all of the students in our classrooms.”

DCSD Board President Mike Peterson claimed that compelled speech could also be considered bullying. “Bullying, even if it’s verbal, cyber-bullying, can definitely be cruel,” he said. “I also believe compelled speech can be cruel, to force people to say things that are against their deeply held beliefs, and I also believe we need to protect students from, frankly, bullying that could come in the form of compelled speech as well.”

Peterson (back row) posing with Flora, Widju, and Rep. Brandi Bradley (R-Littleton), and others during a CPAN event in November 2022.

Conservative Christians are increasingly framing the issue of transgender pronouns and address in terms of violations of strongly held religious beliefs. In April, “ex-gay” Christian author Rosaria Butterfield published the essay, “Why I no longer use Transgender Pronouns—and Why You shouldn’t, either,” on Christian media site Reformation21, and argues that the use of gender-affirming pronouns is a violation of the Ninth Commandment, bearing false witness, among other offenses against the Christian faith. 

DCSD Director David Ray suggested that such revisions might be more appropriate. “I feel like what we’re doing with this policy, again, trying to make a statement that doesn’t belong, and certainly doesn’t belong in a parent engagement statement, but tries to address a conviction I think that you have, Director Peterson, in feeling like there have been occasions where students have been asked to refer to someone that is against their conviction or their religion or what not,” he said. “I don’t think it belongs here. If you want to have convictions besides that, let’s talk about the student discipline policy or the student behavior policy, but I don’t see the rationale for inserting it into a family engagement policy.”