LINCOLN, Nebraska (Christian Examiner)—Last week, public criticism about Lincoln Public Schools erupted because of materials distributed at a an elementary school suggesting teachers use "purple penguins" to describe young students instead of gender-based nouns like "boys" or "girls."
Now LPS Superintendent Steve Joel is dealing with complaints from at least one teacher about staff development training which probed into participants' awareness of their sexual identity.
The first controversy arose when an advocacy group distributed a handout to Irving Middle School staff members on a committee "tasked with examining equity issues that might affect students," according to Omaha.com article, Oct. 9.
The "12 Steps to Gender Inclusiveness" from the nonprofit Gender Spectrum included advice to avoid "binary terms" for gender, such as "ladies and gentlemen," urging teachers instead to use pluralistic descriptors like athletes, campers, readers or "purple penguins," the term which national media picked up in numerous reports.
LPS Superintendent Steve Joel pushed back at the media firestorm in an Oct. 9 press conference, saying "Never once has anyone inside our system mandated that a teacher take (the words) 'boys' and 'girls' or 'ladies' and 'gentlemen' out of their interactions with children or interaction with adults, according to an Oct. 10 article in the JournalStar.com. " There's no policy, there's no procedure, there's [sic] no changes being made to bathrooms in schools," he said.
Now an anonymous teacher, fearing reprisals for holding conventional beliefs, has become the focus of local media coverage for complaints about "institutional sexual harassment" that arose from a professional development session conducted by the school district.
The new controversy was raised late Oct. 13 in an article by a regional media outlet, NebraskaWatchdog.org, from comments that came to light during the Coby Mach Show, Oct. 10, on KFOR in Lincoln.
LPS' Joel was a guest on the show and radio host Mach questioned him about information Mach had received in an email from the unnamed teacher.
The main complaint was a training exercise where teachers were told to "let go of uncomfortable feelings," have an open mind and talk about when they first became aware of their gender and sexual orientation.
According to the article, Joel confirmed the school district had conducted "cultural proficiency training," saying he went through the training with 300 principals and teachers and it was focused more on racial bias than gender issues. "If the teacher felt uncomfortable, he should have felt free to express his concerns," he offered.
However, the teacher's complaints mentioned a spirit of intimidation at the training, personified by the presence of a member of the superintendent's executive team, the director of secondary schools, who was watching from the back of the room.
Joel said the purpose of the training was to address bullying, adding "we're not going to back down from this."
Nebraska Family Alliance, a family advocacy group based on traditional biblical values with ties to the Colorado-based ministry, Focus on the Family, has weighed in, saying "bullying and name-calling of any kind is wrong" and "all people should be treated with dignity and respect."
But, the group also criticized the disputed materials from Gender Spectrum and issued talking points that describe the gender training handout as advocating for an ideology at odds with the community, presenting an extreme view of gender fluidity, and creating a disconnect between biology and gender that "makes the idea of gender meaningless."
NFA is asking parents to contact the school board to ask questions and share concerns.
The next board meeting is scheduled to start 6 p.m. on Oct. 14 in the LPS District Office located at 5905 O Street in Lincoln.
Lincoln Public schools serve 39,000 students in 60 schools, making it the second largest public school district in Nebraska.