EAU CLAIRE, Wis – A middle school principal says he made "an error in judgment" last week by not more fully discussing a teacher's plan to tell seventh-grade students her sexual orientation during health classes.
South Middle School Principal John Wallace said in a letter to parents of about 125 students in Stephanie Rowe's health classes that parents send their children to school each day "trusting that we as their educators will make the best decisions as to how to instruct and care for them."
"On certain occasions, however, a decision is made that is clearly not in the best interest of the students and their guardians whom we serve," Wallace wrote.
The principal said Rowe told him she planned to tell her seventh-grade health students that day that she is gay. She told him the question concerning her sexual orientation has come up for years during the question-and-answer day that is included in the human growth and development unit.
"One of the things she promotes with her students is honesty ... and she felt that she should model that for them and respectfully so," Wallace said, according to the Leader-Telegram. "Rather than wait for the question she decided she'd announce it so her students knew and they could move on. Knowing her as I do, I knew she'd handle it well."
She hoped to succinctly make her orientation known through a one-time announcement, and then move on to the lesson, the principal said.
Some parents complained to school officials about Rowe's announcement and a questionnaire and discussion about sexual topics. The Leader-Telegram reported parents were also upset because homosexuality is not part of the health curriculum.
"Parental response has led me to realize my error in not asking Ms. Rowe to further discuss her intent and process with me," Wallace said. "Through such a discussion, we could have better discerned what should take place and how it should take place in consideration of all members of our learning community.
"As a result of not doing so, some parents feel we have betrayed them, resulting in a loss of trust in our understanding of what's best for kids."
The principal said the issue was not a matter of sexual orientation but rather one of parental trust in the educators who serve them.
"I fully realize that we have lost some of that trust," he said.
Prior to the start of classes, Rowe sent an e-mail to her colleagues telling them of her plan.
"I am doing this because I want to live more authentically and be an example of someone happy and healthy for youth faced with sexual orientation issues within their family or beyond," she wrote in the e-mail, according to the Ledger-Telegram.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.