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Navigating the New Divide at School

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

The back-to-school season has arrived, and it brings with it a mix of emotions for parents. For many, this is a time of celebration, as families commemorate significant milestones—the first day of kindergarten, the transition from middle to high school, or the bittersweet moment of dropping off a college-bound teenager as they embark on their journey into adulthood. However, there are also families who find themselves grappling with anxiety. These parents are concerned about sending their children back to a school environment that implements harmful gender policies under the guise of inclusion and diversity.


Schools around the country are adopting harmful policies that encourage young children to undergo social transitioning from their biological sex to a new “gender identity.” In Indiana, the South Madison School District adopted a “gender support plan” policy that requires school staff change students’ names and pronouns while keeping the information hidden from some parents. Parents in Wisconsin sued their school district after the district insisted that over their objection it would change their 12-year-old daughter’s name and pronouns at school. A group of Virginia parents and teachers are challenging the Harrisonburg City Public School Board for telling teachers to speak to parents about their child’s mental health only when school officials deem it “appropriate.”

The tension over the authority to determine what is best for children has been simmering for years. Whether it’s disputes over school lunches or the teaching of Common Core, unelected bureaucrats have acted as if they know how to direct the upbringing of kids better than their parents do.

Following the COVID-19 lockdowns, parents gained a rare glimpse behind closed doors, prompting a surge in demands for accountability and transparency. Simultaneously, teachers began resisting pressure to misrepresent students’ identities. This tension reached a critical point in Loudoun County, Virginia, when a physical education teacher was suspended for voicing his opposition to the county requiring teachers to use names and pronouns as a part of social transition. Concerned parents filled school board meetings to voice their concerns about the school board’s actions, leading the National School Board Association to analogize such parents to domestic terrorists and demand that the U.S. Department of Justice take action against them. The Biden administration has also taken steps to redefine the term “sex” in education, expanding it to encompass  “gender identity.” This alteration opens the doors for girls to lose crucial protections in athletic and private settings.


With the escalating call for transparency, certain school officials appear to have dug in their heels. However, some politicians have taken notice and are taking steps to ensure that parents, teachers, and students are all protected and can trust that each other’s interests are respected. Notably, in Virginia, where the debate over parental rights took center stage, the Virginia Department of Education, under the guidance of the Youngkin administration, enacted model policies that firmly establish parents as the central decision-makers in their children’s lives. Likewise, certain members of Congress have endeavored to address this matter at a national scale.

Political action can only achieve a limited impact without the support of ordinary American voters. A coalition comprised of various organizations, including the Heritage Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom (where I serve as senior counsel), has united to establish the Promise to America’s Parents. It recognizes that parents require legislation that ensures accountability, choice, and transparency. The Promise initiative equips parents with both the necessary tools and educational resources, enabling them to advocate for these crucial laws during local, state, and federal elections.

As school coalitions seek to fan the flames of cultural division over race, sex, and class, our coalition of families seeks the best interest of children by empowering parents to make the right choices for them. Every parent should have the freedom to send their child to the school of their choice—whether it’s public, private, or homeschool—without fear that government bureaucrats will try to usurp a parent’s right and responsibility to raise their children.


Parents have a natural ability to understand what works best for their kids. Family values shape those decisions and provide parents with the necessary confidence to make them. No one else has the right to intervene and take on that role—neither extended family members, schools, or government agencies. Every mother and father holds the responsibility and fundamental right to select what is optimal for their child in terms of education and healthcare. Similarly, teachers who also acknowledge this perspective should not be compelled to choose between retaining their job, misleading parents, or conveying to their students that their identity and value are based on the color of their skin.

There is hope for a future of parents and teachers working together, not sowing seeds of conflict. And that’s what the Promise to America’s Parents seeks to accomplish—a promise to return to our primary concerns being lunchboxes and back-to-school outfits.

Kate Anderson is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom (@ADFLegal).

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