Parents are furious over an apparent attempt to incentivize students to participate in an LGBT focus group by offering a $15 Amazon gift card.
The offer was uncovered after parents expressed concern on Facebook regarding a survey that Johnston Public Schools (JPS) made of students regarding their preferred pronouns.
“What a joke the school department has other things they should be concerned about!” said Jamie LaNinfa on Facebook about the survey regarding pronouns.
Another Facebook group member was much more explicit.
“Yes, reading, writing, and math. The essentials to become a functioning adult. The subjects that China excels in,” wrote Diana Bajakian Lozowski, a member of the Johnston, Rhode Island community group. “Pronouns!!!! It’s the most moronic thing I have ever heard! And these parents who inject this trash into their kids lives have serious psych issues.”
One member shared a copy of the actual survey and another added to the mounting anger by posting the recent Amazon gift card offer, which was included in a newsletter sent out by a district middle school.
“We want to hear from you!” said the LGBT focus-group ad. “Earn a $15 Amazon Gift Card. 60 Minute Focus Group. LGBTQ concerns. Your ideas your voices. 100% Confidential.”
The offer was made by the Tri-County Community Action Agency, but it also included an email address from a JPS account.
The Tri-County Community Action Agency is a private, nonprofit, social welfare organization mostly funded by the federal government.
A screenshot of an email from Principal Matthew Tsonos to a parent, obtained by The Lion, confirms the offer was in fact sent out by the school in a newsletter.
“This is our newsletter and it was sent to all students and parents,” Tsonos writes, defending it on the basis of awareness and providing “a safe and supportive environment.”
An email to the JPS account in the ad by The Lion went unanswered, as did similar emails to all school system committee members and the system superintendent.
Phone calls to the superintendent and the assistant superintendent by the Lion also went unanswered.
One member of the Facebook group said that he spoke with the superintendent directly about the survey.
“I spoke to both the principal and Superintendent of Johnston,” said group member Justin Perreault. “The teacher did this Without permission or anyone knowing. Both said the teacher has been spoken to and the question has been removed. And nothing like this would happen again.”
If that’s the case, it seems to go against the district’s own policy clearly enunciated on its website.
The district has a four-page policy document regarding students’ rights and responsibilities towards “transgendered and nonbinary” people.
“Gender Identity is a person’s deeply held sense or psychological knowledge of their own gender. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the gender assigned at birth,” said the policy.
The policy specifically recommends that school staff ask students privately at the beginning of the school year by which pronoun they wish to be addressed.
One parent who spoke to The Lion on the condition that their name not be used, because of fears of retaliation, said that both the survey and the focus group offer were inappropriate.
“I believe all children should have a safe place to go if they need, but why would you offer them a gift card?” the parent told The Lion. “How many kids do you think are going to try to join that focus group? Specifically for the free Amazon Gift? I don’t understand why they need to incentivize them to go. I considerate it essentially grooming.”