Your Rights as a Teacher
The teaching of gender identity ideology is a new practice in Aotearoa and raises many questions for teachers who do not subscribe to the belief. Under the NZ Bill of Rights Act, people have the right both to hold and not to hold a belief. In the United Kingdom, The Maya Forstater case upheld the right for people to hold and express gender critical views.
Are teachers’ views protected in the same way in Aotearoa?
To find out, we asked the Ministry of Education and the Teaching Council a series of questions:
What are the rights of teachers or schools to decline to teach gender identity ideology if they don't subscribe to that belief system, even though teaching it is recommended in the Ministry of Education Relationship and Sexuality Guide?
Would it be against the law for a school to teach that sex is binary and cannot be changed but that people can change their gendered behaviour?
Do students or staff have the right to ask others to use their preferred opposite sex or neo pronouns (as that is their protected belief) AND is there a matching right for students and staff to decline to do so (as that is their protected belief)?
What are the employment rights of staff who decline to participate in social transitioning of both children and adults, for example by not using opposite sex or neo pronouns?
How can teachers manage the expectation of the school that they must, at the same time, both keep confidential an adult or child’s gender identity and also affirm it?
Would teachers who provided information about the negative consequences of gender transitioning to students be considered to have broken the Conversion Therapy Practices Prohibition Act?
How does the Privacy Act fit with the Care of Children Act and the rights of parents to be informed and make decisions about their child’s care and education?
Do parents, staff, and students in schools have the right to single-sex toilets and changing rooms that opposite sex people, including those with transgender identities, cannot access?
We received only the briefest of answers to these and our other important questions:
The Teaching Council
The Teaching Council advised: “We have considered your request under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) and I can advise as follows. As we have neither sought or received any legal advice in relation to any of these questions, we must refuse your request under section 18(e) of the OIA - as the information sought does not exist.”
The Council continued, “I can, however, advise that the professional expectations we have of teachers to maintain their practising certificates is to meet Our Code, Our Standards. The code sets out principles that are relevant to your questions to help teachers make sound judgements in supporting both children and their whanau.”
One of the “sound judgements” expected, according to the Code, is for teachers to use a students’ preferred pronouns. (Our Code: Examples in Practice p13)
The Ministry of Education
The Ministry also does not know the answers to our questions and is unconcerned by them: “The Ministry has not sought any legal advice in relation to the specific questions mentioned in your request therefore your request has been refused under Section 18(e) of the Act, as the document alleged to contain the information requested does not exist.”
Its response continued:
“It should be noted that The Education and Training Act 2020 requires a school’s board to provide a safe environment for students and to ensure that their school is inclusive of, and caters for, students with differing needs. This means that we expect school policies and practices to protect and promote the safety and inclusion of all students, including transgender and non-binary students. Schools can do this by:
Supporting transgender students to use the facilities (e.g. bathrooms and changing rooms) they feel safe and comfortable using; (That’s a ‘no’ to our last question.)
Ensuring transgender and non-binary students are supported to engage in sport and other physical activity in a way that is safe and inclusive; and (Safe and inclusive for the other students as well?)
Upholding transgender, intersex and non-binary students’ privacy by confirming the student’s wishes around what name and gender identity they would like used at school and in communication with parents and whānau. (That’s a blanket endorsement of keeping secrets from parents.)
The Ministry’s response then became patronising – assuming that our questions were prompted by our not understanding the curriculum or by being prudish about sexuality.
We were advised to educate ourselves:
The Ministry of Education provides guidance to teachers who may feel uncomfortable with topics in relationship and sexuality education. We suggest that it may be useful for teachers to support each other (or seek extra support from others) if needed to reflect upon teaching practice in relation to feeling uncomfortable or being in conflict with their values, attitudes and beliefs. This will help teachers to think critically about the questions and responses they are providing in class when these feelings arise.”
The advice from the Teaching Council and the Ministry of Education is full of double-speak.
Although the Council’s Code of Professional Responsibility requires teachers to “respect the diversity of the heritage, language, identity and culture of all learners”, the views and values of those who don’t believe in gender identity theory are officially repudiated.
Although the Ministry says about RSE education, “It is good practice to communicate with whanau prior to let them know that the learning is coming up...” it also advises: “Schools do not need to seek permission from parents, caregivers or whanau for akonga to participate in RSE.”
Teachers are in a dilemma.
The Ministry of Education endorses the idea that being transgender is a positive and ‘authentic’ choice for children to make, even at a very young age. As a teacher, if your own school’s Board of Trustees and principal hold the same ideological view, what can you do if you disagree and don’t want to teach children that sex is on a spectrum and can be changed at will?
The choices are stark:
1. Keep your head down and hope you can avoid the topic and that no trans or non-binary students appear in your classes. (This is becoming an increasingly unrealistic hope.)
2. Comply with school policy to the minimum required, trying not to compromise your own values at the same time.
3. Raise the issues you have with gender theory and try to change the school’s gender identity policies. (It is best to collaborate with parents on this.)
4. Resign before you are compelled to leave. (Some NZ teachers have already been forced into this position.)
We hope that the fourth option does not become necessary for any more teachers. Instead, we want to support teachers to pursue option three. If you are interested in this option, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for the school gender policy information pack that we are currently preparing.
Here are some further useful links:
Stella O'Malley, psychotherapist and Director of Genspect provides an introduction to the issues for schools here. Genspect advocates for a "cautious, gentle, compassionate and understanding approach."
Saying no to school transition. In this article from the Critic, UK MP Miriam Cates, explains why new Education Department policy should ban schools from socially transitioning a child, even with parental consent. “The need for guidance is indisputable, but anything other than a total ban on schools socially transitioning children will exacerbate [these] tensions. Not only is a ban the right ethical solution, it is also the only way to protect head teachers from being forced to make high stakes decisions for which they are unqualified.”
We recommend this policy from a US school: "We believe in parental choice and that we are here to serve families. As we strive to build upon connections with our families, we leave the job of parenting to our parents. They are responsible for imparting morals and values taught in their homes including practiced political, religious, and social viewpoints. We trust that they know what is best for their student as the student grows and develops into an adult.”
The gender affirmative model and social transition in schools (April 2023) Transgender Trend responds to the Department for Education draft transgender guidance proposals for schools in the UK. "The DfE must decide if schools are to follow either an activist approach or an approach in line with normal standards of safeguarding. It can’t be a bit of both."
This UK website from Teachers for Evidence-based Education provides guidance and resources to help educational professionals navigate the issue of sex and gender identity in schools. The group believes that “sex matters and that to deny the importance of material reality will lead to inequality and conflict between people with different protected characteristics.”
This new (Feb 2023) guidance is provided by UK education unions and sector bodies and aims to help schools meet their legal duties while supporting all children.
This February 2023 revised and updated guidance for UK schools was jointly produced by Sex Matters and Transgender Trend.
Brief Guidance for Schools Produced by Genspect, this guidance advises schools to develop a sex and gender policy and to take a "cautious, least-invasive- first approach" to gender issues.
Brief Guidance on Social Transition Also produced by Genspect, the guidance includes several cautions, including one against allowing students to dictate other people's use of pronouns, saying "it is not acceptable to act as though it is an act of hostility to use the biologically correct pronoun."
I’m a teacher and I will not be complicit https://open.substack.com/pub/pitt/p/im-a-teacher-and-i-will-not-be-complicit?r=24091f&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web
In this article a teacher from Chicago describes the insidious spread since 2015 of gender theory in schools, culminating now in its compulsory inclusion in lesson content. The teacher has resigned, saying: “I am going to do my best to blow the whistle and restore sanity to my once honorable profession.”