Ohio school board meeting gets heated over 'woke' policy keeping parents in dark about kids’ gender changes

Mentor, Ohio, residents tell school board, 'No more levies passed until you remember who you work for'

An Ohio school board meeting got heated Tuesday night over an email first reported by Fox News Digital of the district informing teachers they have no obligation to notify the parents if a transgender or transitioning student as young as 11 requests to be called by a different name or pronoun.

"Parents have a fundamental right to the upbringing of their children," board member Annie Payne, a Republican who was elected to the board last year, said during the meeting. "We should not undermine their right by deciding for them what is best for their child."

On Aug. 31, Mentor Public Schools sent an email to teachers in grades 6-12 saying they don’t have to notify parents of a name or pronoun change if the student only requests it informally and does not ask for it to be changed in Google or the Infinite Campus parent portal.

"If a student shares with a teacher what preferred name they would like to be called, and the student does not want it changed in IC or Google, there really is no need to go any further," the email, obtained by Parents Defending Education (PDE) and shared exclusively with Fox News Digital, stated. 

The Mentor Public Schools board of education held a meeting in Mentor, Ohio, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.

The Mentor Public Schools board of education held a meeting in Mentor, Ohio, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. (CARDINAL TV MENTOR OHIO/YouTube/Screenshot)

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"That teacher can just use those preferred pronouns/name with the student and there is no need to share the info with any other staff member or family member unless the student would like additional support with this throughout the year," the email read.

The district issued a statement to Fox News Digital on Sept. 8 saying its practices "will always focus on the best ways to meet the safety needs of our students and staff."

"We will continue to work with our board members and legal counsel to determine the guidelines we will follow as the federal regulations and court cases around these topics evolve," the district said.

The district did not answer Fox News Digital’s questions last week asking if teachers are obligated to notify the parents if the student does want the change in IC and Google or whether it’s the district’s position that an 11-year-old is mentally capable of deciding his or her own gender transition and beginning that transition at school without the parents knowing.

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While the original email was sent by Assistant Superintendent Tim Hamman, as Fox News Digital previously reported, Superintendent Craig Heath clarified during Tuesday’s meeting that it was authored by himself.

"This is obviously a cultural, societal and political hot button topic right now," Heath said, reading from his prepared remarks. "So much so that federal regulations, state guidance, and court cases in the justice system have inconclusive and oftentimes conflicting statements. The recent article about Mentor schools and the use of preferred pronouns focused on one email that only tells part of that story. The words that have caused the most concern were mine, not Mr. Hamman’s.

Mentor Public Schools Superintendent Craig Heath speaks during a board of education meeting in Mentor, Ohio, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.

Mentor Public Schools Superintendent Craig Heath speaks during a board of education meeting in Mentor, Ohio, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. (CARDINAL TV MENTOR OHIO/YouTube/Screenshot)

"My statement regarding the parent communication piece was in response to a singular scenario about a singular high school student approaching a singular teacher about using their preferred pronouns in the classroom," he continued. "They did not want to change them in Infinite Campus or Google because the parents would need to be involved, and they were not ready to have that conversation with their family. In this situation, we're now moving out of the pronoun survey question, and we're now moving into the transgender student rights question. This is a significantly different topic. My statement goes back to the singular scenario, and was made to follow the regulations about a protected class of people based on federal regulations."

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Heath went on to say that the issue was and still is scheduled to be discussed at the board’s upcoming retreat on Sept. 21. He made no mention of the email being sent in error until he was later questioned by Payne.

"If it was just a one-off scenario, why did we send it to sixth grade teachers and up?" Payne asked, prompting a wave of applause.

"That was part of the miscommunication amongst our staff," Heath responded.

"So did we send anything to those teachers since then to say this was a [inaudible]?" Payne asked.

"No, we have not sent that clarification out yet," Heath responded. "We were waiting for this meeting and then obviously our board retreat next week to have some of these conversations so we can give them the accurate information."

Annie Payne, member of the Mentor Public Schools board of education, speaks during a meeting in Mentor, Ohio, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.

Annie Payne, member of the Mentor Public Schools board of education, speaks during a meeting in Mentor, Ohio, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. (CARDINAL TV MENTOR OHIO/YouTube/Screenshot)

The board then held a public comment session that often devolved into outbursts and tears.

One woman who identified herself as a 40-year Mentor real estate agent who had two kids attend Mentor Public Schools slammed the board for "jumping on the whole woke agenda bandwagon."

"I knew quality schools bring higher property values, and it also attracts people to raise families in Mentor," she said. "I was totally embarrassed and totally disgusted when I saw our school system make negative national news. … This is not a subject that's needed or our educators have the right to discuss without parental knowledge. … You have no business discussing pronouns and genders with immature, developing minds."

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A transgender student choked back tears talking about the emotional distress some LGBTQ students face in school.

"I've never heard the word LGBTQ in my school from a staff member or teacher," the student said. "If anything, my school doesn't talk at all about the LGBTQ. Also, not to mention, if anyone feels as if their child will be affected by a rainbow flag, they need to take a 10-minute walk outside and actually be in reality."

Parents and community members attend a Loudoun County School Board meeting in Virginia on June 22, 2021. 

Parents and community members attend a Loudoun County School Board meeting in Virginia on June 22, 2021.  (REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

A young woman who recently graduated from Mentor Public Schools also choked back tears while talking about the "bullying" she faced from teachers in school for being a conservative.

"A lot of the tactics of the left are to deny, deny, deny, and say that it's a lie and that this isn't happening to your kids," she said. "It's happening to our kids, because it's happened to me."

"Teachers are telling them they’re ignorant for their beliefs and what they stand for and who they side with in their politics," she continued. "In my senior year, I had to drop a class because my teacher constantly called me ignorant for not wearing a mask. … He felt the need to call people of my side ignorant and dumb and conspiracy theorists, and it's not true. That has no place in school. It's bullying students. It's not OK." 

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One woman attacked Payne, the Republican board member, for being so vocal about the issue without having any of her own children in the school district. She was interrupted multiple times by community members, but Payne defended her right to speak.

"I’m for First Amendment rights, so I would be glad for her to finish her review of me. That’s fine," Payne said. "I like to use mine as well, so you go ahead."

"You get to sit there and I don’t," the woman shot back. "That’s the difference."

"I'll also point out the irony, which seems to be lost on some folks, which is while some board members may claim to fight for ‘parents’ rights,’ despite having no children in the school district, they are usurping and trampling the rights of the parents they claim to represent," the woman continued. "Whose rights are you fighting for anyway? Certainly not mine."

In a statement to Fox News Digital, Payne acknowledged there were "mixed feelings" about the issue but said she would "continue to be a voice for parents to promote transparency and parental involvement within our schools."

An even mix of proponents and opponents to teaching Critical Race Theory are in attendance as the Placentia Yorba Linda School Board in California discusses a proposed resolution to ban it from being taught in schools on Nov. 16, 2021.

An even mix of proponents and opponents to teaching Critical Race Theory are in attendance as the Placentia Yorba Linda School Board in California discusses a proposed resolution to ban it from being taught in schools on Nov. 16, 2021. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Multiple community members threatened to vote against any future levies proposed by the school board until the pronoun policy is changed.

"One thing that I noticed when you talked about the retreat, the number one topic you want to talk about is pronouns and the LGBTQ movement," one woman said. "I didn't hear one word about education. What are we teaching our children? It is not your responsibility to worry about moral values. That is the parental right. You are treading on parental rights all over the place, and you're also violating the Constitution."

"I see Mentor students every day, incapable of critical thinking, how to reason, that can't make change, and probably can't even define what a pronoun is," she continued. "I completely sympathize with anybody who has gender dysphoria. I completely have empathy for them, and there needs to be support for those students. It does not involve forcing that on every student in the school without the parents right or knowledge. … And as far as levies, if you don't start doing the will of the citizens of Mentor, I promise you will get no more levies passed until you remember who you work for."

Another woman presented multiple scenarios in which teachers or school staff could be found in a "very tough position" when navigating the pronoun policy.

"If the school nurse for example, calls home because your child gets sick, do they have to remember to call the child by a different name when speaking to the parent and call the child by something different when they are in school?" she asked. "If a child brings home graded homework, will the teacher white out the name on the paper so they don't expose the secret that this kid goes by something different in school? I'm concerned that if deception is encouraged for pronoun use or this topic, what could be next? If my daughter someday has an unintended pregnancy or gets involved in drugs, will I be kept in the dark about that because the school decides to honor her right to privacy over my rights to care for my child?"

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Mentor Public Schools responded to Fox News Digital's inquiry on Wednesday, answering questions about the upcoming retreat and whether a clarification about the pronoun policy will be sent to 6-12 grade teachers in the future. The district did not respond to a question asking to confirm whether the original email about pronouns was sent in error, as Heath suggested at the meeting.

"The Board of Education retreat is a pre-planned board meeting, much like a work session, that is being facilitated by a consultant chosen by the board," the district said. "Topics typically planned for a retreat like this include items such board relations, board roles and responsibilities, board policy, etc. We are also adding school safety to the agenda. The retreat is being held on our campus. After the retreat, we plan to conduct another board work session to continue discussions on topics as needed. Regarding the email you asked about, yes, I anticipate after our work sessions we could have new, clarifying guidance to share with our teachers."

Fox News Digital has filed a public records request with the school district requesting documents and correspondence related to this topic.

WATCH THE FULL SCHOOL BOARD MEETING HERE: