Parent asks Baldwin County school board about gender identity policies

Posted 11/2/23

At the Oct. 19 Baldwin County Board of Education meeting, attention shifted as one audience member raised questions about the school system's policy regarding gender identity and expression. Rebecca …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Subscribe to continue reading. Already a subscriber? Sign in

Get the gift of local news. All subscriptions 50% off for a limited time!

You can cancel anytime.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Parent asks Baldwin County school board about gender identity policies


At the Oct. 19 Baldwin County Board of Education meeting, attention shifted as one audience member raised questions about the school system's policy regarding gender identity and expression.

Rebecca Watson, a Fairhope parent and resident, questioned the board's official stance on teacher and counselor protocol regarding gender identity affirmation, which she said she thinks is unclear. Watson referenced discrepancies between what has been said publicly by Superintendent Eddie Tyler and what is printed as ethical standards in the counseling guidance plan, which details all services and programs offered and is distributed to students enrolled in the school system.

The excerpt Watson cited is on page 38 of the 2022-23 version of the plan, which is the most recent copy available at this time.

"The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is a professional organization supporting school counselors, school counseling students and interns, school counseling program directors, supervisors and school counselor educators. These standards are the ethical responsibility of all school counseling professionals," the counseling guidance plan states.

"All students have the right to equitable access to school counselors who support students from all backgrounds and circumstances and who advocate for and affirm all students regardless of but not limited to ethnic and racial identity; nationality, age, social class, economic status, abilities, disabilities, language, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, family type, religious and spiritual identity, living situations, including emancipated minor status."

The American Psychological Association defines gender identity as a "person's internal sense of being male, female or something else" and gender expression as "the way a person communicates gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics."

The Yale School of Medicine defines gender affirmation as "the process of making changes to recognize, accept and express one's gender identity."

Watson said that the ASCA standards conflict with Tyler's public comments denying a mandated gender identity or gender affirming policy.

Watson she was approaching the board on behalf of Baldwin County teachers and counselors who may be confused about how to handle protocol regarding their ethical responsibility related to students who may approach them about gender identity and expression.

"I've read a few articles about you Mr. Tyler, saying that we (the school system) don't have a gender identity or gender affirmation policy, but when I'm looking through the comprehensive counseling program, it completely contradicts what you're saying," Watson said.

Tyler said those pages have now been unpublished, and the board will follow the direction of state law.

"As a result of changes in the state law, we unpublished our 2022-23 Counseling Guide, which had previously incorporated the National School Counseling standards that had also been adopted by the State Department of Education since 2003," Tyler said. "The previous BCBE Counseling Guide included numerous references from the National School Counseling association to gender identification and affirming philosophies that are currently in conflict with Alabama law and for which our board has not approved. The board and superintendent are not implementing nor subscribing to those standards."

The changes in law that Tyler mentioned were in reference to a bill that was passed and signed in to law by Gov. Kay Ivey in April 2022 dubbed the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act.

Per an April 2022 article from CNN, "the legislation would also make it a violation for public or private school officials, such as teachers, principals, nurses and counselors, to encourage a minor to withhold from their parent or guardian 'the fact that the minor's perception of his or her gender or sex is inconsistent with the minor's sex.'"

Tyler also said the board has encouraged the State Department of Education to adopt new "Alabama-driven" standards for counseling, due to the fact that the state department has adopted the national school counseling standards since 2003, and continue to do so despite those standards being in conflict with the recently passed Alabama law.

"With our counseling supervisor, we are currently working on a comprehensive counseling plan specifically for Baldwin County," Tyler said. "This guide will incorporate all of the recent policy and legal changes on this subject. When that is finalized and approved, we will publish that information as we have in the past."

At the Oct. 19 meeting, Sarah Young, general counsel for the school system, said that due to employee turnover during the summer the intervention department is still working on updating and publishing the 2023-24 version of the guidance plan.

Tyler said he appreciated Watson directing her questions to him and the board and encouraged all parents who may have questions to reach out directly to the board.

"Misinformation is not going to help any of us on what can become a controversial issue," Tyler said.