MISHAWAKA, Ind. — REAL News Michiana uncovered a video posted to social media by a Penn Harris Madison middle school teacher in which the teacher says she will agree to lie to parents about a child’s “preferred” pronouns and name they wish to be called, in order to protect transgender middle-schoolers.
The TikTok video, posted by Danielle Cortez, a Schmucker Middle School Science Teacher, has a caption that says “When my student asks that I use their preferred name & pronouns but not with their parents so they don’t get in trouble.” The caption is accompanied by Cortez lip-syncing to audio of a person saying “My dear sweet child, that’s what I do. It’s what I live for.” Another caption in the video says “I love this job. #protectmiddleschoolers #transstudents #transkids #transgender #middleschool.” You can see the video below.
In another video, Cortez gives a tour of her classroom and discusses activities planned for the first day of school. There is a massive rainbow flag hanging in the doorway as she walks in. The first and second activity for the students includes listing their preferred pronouns and names.
RNM reached out to Cortez and school district officials with the following email:
I’m attaching a video from Ms. Danielle Cortez posted on the social media platform TikTok that was taken in her classroom at Schmucker Middle School. I’ve had multiple concerned parents reach out to me regarding this video.
I’m requesting comment from both Ms. Cortez and the school district.
Is this okay? Are teachers allowed to hide this kind of information from parents? Is there a social media policy for teachers and staff? Does this break any school policies? Does PHM condone what this Ms. Cortez is saying here? Does PHM believe the school district and teachers know what’s better for students than their own parents?
Cortez responded with the following message:
Good morning, all! I did do a follow up video after finding out from our campus counselors what our school policy was and made a correction to how I address my students in class. I have made it very clear in the comments to this video and in a follow up video that this is not what is allowed at my school and to ensure the safety of our students and their family that we only address students by their preferred names/pronouns with parental support.
Thank you so much! We here at PHM strive for student safety and can only do so with our Triangle of Communication between teachers, students, and families.
All my best,
RNM made copies of nearly all of Cortez’ TikTok videos and did not see a follow up video with corrections, as she claimed to have made. When we went back to her profile after she sent the email above, Cortez had made her TikTok profile private. While it is possible our journalist overlooked the follow up video she claimed to have produced, RNM could no longer independently verify her claims.
A spokesperson for Penn Harris Madison Schools also responded with the following statement:
There is not a formal P-H-M or Schmucker policy regarding how students are referenced. If a student were to ask a teacher (or any staff member) to refer to him/her with a different name or pronoun other than what is given at birth, the teacher is to notify the student’s guidance counselor who would then reach out to the parents. If the parent gives permission, then it is noted and is permitted. If the parent does not give permission, then staff need to continue to refer to the student as the parent prefers. It’s explained to the student that it could be problematic to have multiple identities on file.
Administration is following up with the teacher.
According to public records, Cortez has worked at Schmucker Middle School since 2019 and makes a taxpayer funded salary of approximately $45,000 per year.
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