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Parents protest hiring of nonbinary teacher

Complaints over a first-grade teacher at Griffin Creek Elementary started on social media and spilled over to a Medford School Board meeting

A group of parents and community members took to social media this week to complain that a nonbinary first-grade teacher had been hired to teach at Griffin Creek Elementary School. Some of them then took their protest to Thursday’s Medford School District board meeting.

A few-dozen parents and community members attended the meeting at North Medford High. Board chair Suzanne Messer warned audience members “complaints about staff members cannot be discussed in open session and must be handled through the district’s complaint process.”

“I see that there are several people that have signed up to provide comment regarding a classroom teacher at Griffin Creek Elementary,” she said. “The board is aware that there is an ongoing discussion of that matter with district administrators, parents and other community members, however board policy ... prohibits the board from taking public comment on specific personal matters, including identifying details and names,” Messer told the audience.

“Board policy ... provides that a person may offer objective criticism of district operations and programs, but that the board will not hear comments regarding any individual district staff member.”

First to speak, Griffin Creek parent John Furnish told the school board that the “district policies” were having a “direct impact on my first grader.”

“The policies of diversity and everything, I understand, is something that’s coming down, and Oregon is adopting these changes, and you guys have to implement them. Unfortunately, those policies are having a negative impact on my daughter,” Furnish said.

“I have written the board a letter, and I hope you guys have reviewed it. That is what I’m here to address ... please take that under advisement. It’s easy to be a keyboard hero, but actually to come out in public and say what you mean and stay and fight for that, that’s what I’ve done for my country, and that’s what I’m doing here for my kids.”

District resident Tanner Fairrington told the board that topics like preferred pronouns and gender identity were not suitable for first graders.

“I understand that the policy on educator equity encourages the diversity in educators to reflect the diversity of students in line with the Oregon Educators Equity Act. I also understand that grant funding has encouraged hiring diverse educators,” he said.

“Placing a nonbinary teacher into a first-grade class is in line with that policy only because it is vague. First graders are very early in their development, and I believe that exposure to the complexity of preferred pronouns and gender roles is not appropriate for this age group. It naturally raises questions and encourages questions on the topic, and many parents want these conversations to be had at home and not at school.”

He added, “My wife and I want our children to attend traditional public school, and issues like this are why they do not. I believe middle ground can be found that meets both the goals of currently policies and the needs and wishes of parents and students.”

Fairrington urged the board to create a committee made up of concerned parents and district officials to review board policies and suggested nonbinary teachers be placed with older grade levels.

“If children are being asked to use preferred pronouns, are they also being informed that they have a right under the First Amendment to not use preferred pronouns?” he asked the board.

David Sours of Jacksonville said he was in support of “efforts to explore ways that LGBTQ students and staff can learn and teach along with everyone else without having to sacrifice who they are.”

Medford resident Kathy Hischar said she attended as a concerned grandparent and to support the parents and students of Griffin Creek Elementary.” Hischar urged the district to “go back to basics.”

Students, Hischar said, “should not have to question why their teacher is a girl but dresses like a boy, and why they can’t address her as Mrs. or Miss.”

Gina DuQuenne, founder and president of Southern Oregon Pride, said in an interview the day after the meeting that ongoing discussions offered a “chance to educate.”

“October is National Coming Out month. I think it’s a good time to encourage people that, if you don’t understand something, Google it, research it, ask questions and just open up your heart and be accepting,” DuQuenne said.

“I applaud the Medford School District for hiring a nonbinary teacher. My thing is, if we put all these things in place, then let’s walk the walk and talk the talk. Let’s be who we say we are. When it comes to pronouns, pronouns are respectful. If I’m not sure of someone’s pronouns, I’ll be the first one to ask. It isn’t a big deal. It’s a show of respecting another person.”

DuQuenne said she hoped to see more diversity in local schools.

“The biases and prejudice that people have, I really look at it as a lack of being educated. It just really surprises me, being in the 21st century and people being so ignorant of things. It upsets and saddens me,” she added.

“I hope we see more diversity in our classrooms. We need that so, so much. I would really suggest these people who are protesting, they educate themselves and get with the program. We are coming out, we’ve been out and we’re not going away.”

Contacted by the Mail Tribune, Medford School District officials declined to discuss the matter, citing district polices and privacy concerns.

“As per board policy, and state and federal law, we do not discriminate for any reason, ever. When parents, family members or guardians have concerns, we will always hear them and work to address them through established District policies and procedures.”

Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or bpollock@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.