State investigation continues on complaint over pronouns in La Center schools


A district policy of La Center’s public schools that banned teachers from asking students about preferred pronouns is under state-level scrutiny following a complaint that stated it violated civil rights.

As of May 24, La Center School District’s Gender-Inclusive Schools Policy and Procedure was under investigation by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The office received a complaint in February, the next step in an effort by district staff to address rules brought to attention late last year.

The complaint follows an email that La Center Superintendent Peter Rosenkranz sent out to staff in November. In the email, Rosenkranz told staff they were not allowed to ask students their pronouns, but were allowed to use different names and pronouns than what was listed in school systems at the student’s request.

After the email, dozens of teachers and community members signed onto a complaint that stated prohibiting teachers from asking pronouns is a violation of civil rights.

According to documents submitted to the OSPI and obtained by The Reflector, the issue stemmed as far back as 2021. In those documents, one teacher who brought the complaint forward had concerns about retaliation from an incident in September 2021 from a mother of a student in one teacher’s class. The teacher was not named explicitly in the document.

The issue resulted in a public hearing on Jan. 10. Afterward, the La Center School District Board of Directors ruled there was no violation of civil rights.

That did not deter those who were against the policy, as the next month, a filing at the state level was made. New documents also allege potential retaliation after those involved with the complaint made their cases known.

A February email to the teacher in question from La Center High School Principal Matt Johnson indicated the teacher would not face disciplinary action. A response from the complainants included in the documents submitted to OSPI disputed that assertion.

On April 20, Rosenkranz sent a letter to parents responding to the investigation, specifically to media coverage regarding the situation.

Though it isn’t usual for the district to respond to media coverage, as has been the case about the investigation, Rosenkranz said additional information was necessary to clarify the situation.

He said coverage falsely aligned the district “with a larger, national, political narrative associated with being unsupportive of students.”

Rosenkranz also disputed any disciplinary action against staff, specifically the use of the term “de-merit” in prior reporting.

“This type of practice is not utilized in our district,” the letter stated.

Printed in bold, the letter stated, “LCSD students are not prohibited from changing or using pronouns. The (policy) simply states that LCSD will not proactively canvas or ask students what pronouns they utilize.”

That distinction was a result of families who asked whether students were required to provide preferred pronouns, Rosenkranz said. The district decided to take the “middle of the road.”

“If they want a different name or pronoun, they can provide that and we will use it in accordance with the law,” the superintendent’s letter read.