Former Arizona school counselor says she was advised to keep student’s transgender status from parents

(Daily Caller News Foundation) – An Arizona school district’s administrators advised social workers to conceal students’ gender transitions from their parents, a former school social worker…

(Daily Caller News Foundation) – An Arizona school district’s administrators advised social workers to conceal students’ gender transitions from their parents, a former school social worker told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Cyndi O’Brien, a former social worker at Scottsdale Unified School District, recounted a September 2022-2023 meeting where she says district social workers were told that they were not required to call parents if a child comes out as transgender during a counseling session. Instead, O’Brien says social workers were told to only disclose this information if a parent or guardian explicitly asks about it. O’Brien first wrote her story anonymously for Scottsdale Unites For Education Integrity, a parental rights group, before sharing her identity with the DCNF.

O’Brien told the DCNF that during the beginning of the school year meeting, some social workers inquired about how to handle students’ gender transitions in accordance with the state’s Parents’ Bill of Rights, which was signed into law in April 2022 and states that “parental rights are exclusively reserved to a parent of a minor child without obstruction or interference from this state.”

Under Arizona’s Parents’ Bill of Rights, school counselors and teachers are prohibited from withholding information from parents that a child tells them about their physical, emotional or mental health. The law states that parents have access to any counselor’s notes and educational records the school may have on the child, according to the law.

“I was hearing all different stories at school, and so the student support director for the district said, ‘You don’t have to call [the parent] if a student comes to you and says they’re transgender unless [the parent] specifically calls you and asks,’ which no parent would do,” O’Brien told the DCNF. “I thought that was weird.”

After the meeting, O’Brien confronted her school’s principal about what she had just heard, she told the DCNF. 

“I told [my principal] what [the district’s student support director] said and then he said, ‘well, you can call [the parents] if [their child] comes to talk to you, but tell the parents everything but the fact that the kid is transgender. But then if you get pressed and they say, ‘well, did my, my child talk about being transgender?’ You can probably admit it,’” O’Brien told the DCNF.

Scottsdale Unified School District denied concealing students’ transgender status from parents.

“Scottsdale Unified School District works to build trust with parents and students,” Kristine Harrington, Scottsdale Unified School District’s director of communications and marketing, told the DCNF. “If a student reports their transgender status to the District, the District works with students to facilitate discussions with parents/guardians and would not actively hide a student’s transgender status from their parents. Parents are entitled to all student records regarding their child, including those of social workers or counselors. The District always strives to act in the best interests of the students and families enrolled.”

“Plenty of things happen in the real world even though nobody wrote about it,” Jack Wilenchick, an attorney representing O’Brien, told the DCNF. “In a court of law, what people say or testify matters just as much as anything in writing.”

O’Brien began working at the school district as a social worker ahead of the 2022-2023 school year, documents obtained by the DCNF show. During the school year, O’Brien received a report that a counselor had sexually harassed a student, O’Brien told the DCNF.

O’Brien filed a Title IX complaint detailing the student’s report and updated her principal on the incident but was told the counselor “just shoots his mouth off like we all do,” she told the DCNF. Later in the school year, several incidents occurred where the counselor, whom O’Brien had previously reported, and her principal began to retaliate against her, O’Brien told the DCNF.

After reporting the incidents of retaliation, O’Brien was put on administrative leave with pay so the district could investigate her allegations, she told the DCNF. O’Brien said to the DCNF that an internal investigation never occurred, though the Arizona Board of Education is still investigating the counselor.

After legal negotiations, O’Brien chose to resign from her position at the school in April 2023, she told the DCNF. O’Brien told the DCNF that the counselor she has reported admitted to sexually harassing a student, yet still remains employed at the district.

“While employed at Desert Canyon Middle School, Ms. O’Brien raised allegations concerning another male counselor,” Harrington told the DCNF. “The District complied with its mandatory reporting responsibilities regarding these items. Subsequent to raising these allegations, Ms. O’Brien separated from her employment with the District. The District denies that it has failed to meet its obligations to protect students as alleged.”

In January, Scottsdale Unified School District denied allegations that it had been promoting a “transgender support plan” for students within the school system, Fox News Digital reported. Documents obtained by the Arizona Daily Independent showed that a high school social worker had been advising educators to ask students for their gender identities in an effort to be more inclusive.

Throughout the country, school districts are enacting policies that keep students’ gender transitions a secret from their parents; Parents Defending Education, a parental rights group, has tracked 1,000 school districts, including 17,612 schools and more than 10 million students, that have “Transgender/Gender Nonconforming Policies” in place to advise educators on how to keep a student’s transgender status hidden from parents. The tracker names some of the largest school systems in the country including Seattle Public Schools in Washington and Los Angeles Unified School District in California.

“There are two issues,” O’Brien told the DCNF. “First, all students deserve respect and support. Second, as counselors we must ensure that parents are guiding medical decisions for their minor children in accordance with the law. It’s concerning that the district is using marginalized children as a cover to justify their willful violation of parental rights.”