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WATCH: PHM School Board Revisits Transgender Kid Policy Following RNM Investigation

PHM Board of School Trustees discuss the district’s new gender/name change policies on Monday, July 25th.

MISHAWAKA, Ind. — The Penn Harris Madison Board of School Trustees promised to revisit their transgender policy for children following a REAL News Michiana investigation that uncovered the school district was working to secretly normalize the gender transition of children as young as 5-years-old. Board President Chris Riley directed the district attorney to come back to the board with information ensuring all name and pronoun changes of juvenile students included parental consent.

As reported by RNM last week, in the newly approved PHM handbooks for parents and students at Penn High School, policies now allow students to change their names and pronouns without parental consent. Under General Information about enrolling in the school, the handbook now states the following:

“Gender pronoun/name changes/requests should be directed to the school’s administration or counseling center. Such inquiries can be initiated by the student and/or family.”

The above verbiage did not exist in the 2021-2022 handbook.

Subscribe to see both the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 handbooks.

Similar language exists in the new handbooks for children K-8. However, the policy directs parents to make the pronoun and name decisions.

“If a student prefers to be called by a different name/pronoun than is listed on the birth certificate, the child’s parent is asked to contact the school administration to request the change.”

Once again, that verbiage did not exist in the 2021-2022 handbook.

Subscribe to see both the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 handbooks.

Several parents spoke about the policy changes at the PHM Board of School Trustees meeting on Monday night. Board member James Turnwald acted as if he believed the wording included parental consent for all minor children — which it does not.

“(I interpreted it as ) If gender, pronouns, identity, those things come up, it’s supposed to be, the administration is supposed to be informed and that the only folks that can decide on that is the parent guardian.” Turnwald said. “(In high school) If I recall reading it, it talks about those students who are 18 and older, who are then considered adults, so I took it to mean that 18-year-olds, they could initiate that. But, anyone under 18, it would have to be initiated by the parent or guardian.”

While the high school handbook does state that adult students carry the responsibilities of both the student and parent in the enrollment process, it does not state anywhere in the gender/name policies that students must have parental consent.

Superintendent Jerry Thacker also apologized to the public for making the policy changes in secret.

“I apologize for the error. But, that was intended to be public and it wasn’t made public prior to that.” Superintendent Jerry Thacker said. “We want parent involvement. It’s imperative we have parent involvement.”

It turns out, all of this was approved before the public was allowed to see the new handbook. As reported by RNM last week, the PHM Board of School Trustees voted on their first draft reading of the updated handbook on March 28th. The updated handbook and the changes being made were not attached or provided to the public.

The second reading, and subsequent approval, of the updated handbook was voted on at the April 25th meeting. Once again, the updated handbook and the changes being made were not attached or provided to the public. The final draft, that had already been approved, was not made public until April 29th, a full 4 days after it had already been approved by the board.

According to board meeting minutes from March, there were only “small modifications being presented.” Those modifications were made by a “committee of administrators,” who are not named. RNM has learned the Director of Professional Development and Student Learning, Dr. Lisa Soto Kile, was in charge of the

Subscribe to see both the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 handbooks.

RNM has learned the Director of Professional Development and Student Learning, Dr. Lisa Soto Kile, was in charge of the changes as the Chair of the Handbook Committee. Soto Kile addressed the board regarding the policy changes, but successfully avoided answering any substantive question regarding the gender transition of children. Instead, she lied about getting parental input about the final changes in the handbook.

“The committee would like to propose that between the recommendation and the final reading that we do seek and we do give the opportunity to parents to consider their input. We want to consider the input of all stakeholders. So, again, moving forward we would like to formally and look to formally provide that opportunity and to seek input of our stakeholders.” Soto Kile said.

Soto Kile was the principal of Elm Road Elementary School for years before being promoted in 2021. According to the PHM website, “Dr. Soto Kile began her career in P-H-M in 1992 as a teacher at Prairie Vista. In 1998, she became the Schoolwide Enrichment Specialist and then moved into the Gifted and Talented Coordinator in 2000. Dr. Soto Kile also held the position of Assistant Principal at Northpoint Elementary (2002-2003), Title I Director (2005-2011) and principalships at Northpoint (2003-2005), Madison (2005-2011) and her… role as principal of Elm Road Elementary which she began in 2010. During the 2010-2011 school year, she served a dual principal role leading both Madison and Elm Road Elementary schools. Dr. Soto Kile’s dissertation focused on balanced literacy programs and the impact on students in Title I schools according to gender, race, and socioeconomic status.”

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