Special Deception for Special Education Parents
Note: This article is much longer than normal as we take a deep dive into the world of special education and how it is receiving special attention from gender ideology proponents.
A previous article on this Substack described a webinar hosted in November 2021 by the Ventura County Office of Education (VCOE) in which attorneys instructed school staff on various ways to deceive parents regarding a student’s gender identity. There was information discussed in that webinar regarding special education students, but we delayed commenting on it because what the slides suggested was astonishing: school staff were apparently trained to hide gender identity changes from parents of special education students. We continued to investigate, and based on the information found, we now believe that our original suspicion was correct.
As a reminder, in the VCOE webinar, school staff were trained to implement gender ideology interventions – behavioral transition, social transition, ideology indoctrination – without notifying parents. Special attention was given at the end of the presentation to special education students. The advice given appeared to bypass parental rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The special focus given to students with special needs when discussing gender identity ideology is concerning, but the coordinated effort to keep information from parents is deeply concerning. Any child with special education needs is highly vulnerable. Children who receive special education services due to depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, or ADHD are seeking answers to their suffering. Children with autism or a diagnosis such as obsessive compulsive disorder can become hyper-fixated on concepts. Children with Down syndrome or other intellectual disabilities have cognitive impairments that make them particularly vulnerable. All of these children are likely to have deficits in social intelligence and critical thinking skills that would make it difficult for them to sort through these complex issues, and yet the presentation discussed in this article, which was given at least four different times by the same law firm, specifically provides suggestions on how to keep this information secret from parents.
First, we need to provide some background information on special education in California. Disabilities that allow a child to receive special education services include autism, Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities, and cerebral palsy, to name a few. The California Department of Education recognizes 13 eligibility categories shown below from slide 80 of the presentation at the center of this article:
These categories are also mirrored at the federal level in the IDEA legislation.
All parents should also be aware of California’s School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266). This law specifically allows schools to keep information about a student’s gender identity from their parents if they so request. It refers specifically to anti-discrimination and privacy laws to allow school staff to lie to parents:
“Preserving a student’s privacy is of the utmost importance. The right of transgender students to keep their transgender status private is grounded in California’s antidiscrimination laws as well as federal and state laws. Disclosing that a student is transgender without the student’s permission may violate California’s antidiscrimination law by increasing the student’s vulnerability to harassment and may violate the student’s right to privacy.”
The School Success and Opportunity Act also requires schools to allow students to use the bathroom and locker room that corresponds with their gender identity rather than their biological sex. Parents of special education students, and specifically female special education students, should take note that a central safeguard to sexual assault risk has been removed. To apply the directives of this law and the advice provided by the lawyers would include scenarios in which biological female special education students with autism, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, etc. can choose to use the men’s locker room or men’s bathroom without parental notification, consent, or oversight. This is a highly dangerous situation where vulnerable students are left unprotected in the name of gender identity ideology.
On November 1, 2021, the Ventura County Office of Education Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA)sponsored the presentation titled, “My Name Is…A Legal and Practical Framework for Affirming Students’ Identities in their Records and in the School Setting.”
The end of the “My Name Is…” presentation concluded with a “Thank You To…” section, and the majority of the organizations and individuals thanked were special education related, among them: Antelope Valley SELPA, South East Consortium SELPA, Whittier Area Cooperative Special Education Program, and the Ventura County SELPA.
On December 6, 2021, the Santa Barbara County SELPA Joint Powers Agency Board included the full slide presentation from the November 1, 2021 VCOE presentation in their meeting agenda, along with the following report that clearly states that the California SELPA Association facilitated this workshop with the F3 law firm:
The Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) hosted the Every Child Counts symposium on January 12-14, 2022, and the “My Name Is…” presentation was one of the workshops offered. It was again presented by the same F3 law firm that hosted the two previous presentations, along with the Associate Superintendent of Ventura County SELPA and the Elementary Program Coordinator of Pupil Services with Las Virgenes Unified School District. The full slide presentation is available through this link to the Symposium workshop.
The Santa Barbara County SELPA sponsored another training by the F3 law firm with the same title on February 1, 2022. It was presented by two attorneys from the F3 law firm and facilitated by the Coordinator of Santa Barbara County SELPA. This posting states that the audience included “Special Education Administrators,” and was presented by a lawyer who advised school districts in “all aspects of special education law and practice”:
Earlier this month, the ACSA hosted the Lead With Pride Summit on May 4-6, 2022. The “My Name Is…” presentation was offered for the fourth time that we know of at one of the workshops during the summit. It was presented by the same two attorneys from the F3 law firm and the Program Coordinator with Las Virgenes Unified School District who presented at the Every Child Counts Symposium. The workshop description for both the Every Child Counts Symposium and the Lead With Pride Summit specifically states that this information applies to general education students and special education students:
A concerned parent contacted the Foothill SELPA, which coordinates special education services for Glendale Unified, Burbank Unified and La Canada Unified and asked if children with Individualized Education Plans (IEP)who have Gender Support Plans have a right to keep their gender identity change confidential from their parents. The Executive Director of the Foothill SELPA confirmed this right:
In a follow-up email, the parent then asked, “Is there any set of criteria that the Foothills SELPA, or the state of California, has in place that would prevent a student from keeping their gender identity confidential from parents? For example, any specific diagnosis, or any specified IQ score range? Because according to what is written here, an autistic child or an intellectually disabled child could keep a gender identity at school secret from parents? Any clarification on this policy would be helpful.” The Executive Director of the Foothill SELPA responded and stated, “I am not aware of any criteria from the SELPA or the STATE that you are referring to.”
A Deeper Dive into the Special Education Slides in the Presentation
The final 15 slides of the “My Name Is…” presentation focus specifically on gender identity and special education students. Please remember that the purpose of this presentation was to instruct school staff on how to conceal students’ gender identities from their parents, per their interpretation of privacy rights in the state of California. Because the workshop descriptions quoted above state that the information presented applies to special education students, this indicates that special education students retain their rights to privacy about their gender identities, allowing schools to keep this information from parents.
This slide states explicitly that “transgender or gender diverse gender identity is not itself a qualifying condition for special education services under Section 504 and IDEA.” It goes on to encourage the participants to reconsider the situation – it states that the student may qualify if he or she has other mental health conditions related to “society’s treatment” of his or her gender identity. Who is included in “society’s treatment?” The student’s community? Family? Parents? Their religion? Why do they appear to be encouraging special education assessors to stretch eligibility for students who don’t actually meet the criteria? What are the long-term consequences of being labeled with Emotional Disturbance? Also, how would psychosis be related to a child’s gender identity?
What happens when a child with autism is exposed to gender ideology, becomes hyper-fixated (as autistic children sometimes do) that they are transgender? Is a parent who is concerned about their child’s obsessive fixations, which are possibly a function of their autism diagnosis, now an oppressive force in the child’s life?
The presentation presents three hypothetical cases of students who receive special education services and are also “gender diverse:”
The first hypothetical case, given in this slide, is a transgender student with a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). Examples of an SLD include dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. The slide gives the definition that schools use to determine if a student meets the eligibility criteria to receive special education services for an SLD.
This slide poses the question whether a child’s gender identity can impact basic psychological processes that involve reading and writing. How can one’s discomfort with their gender affect their ability to read and write?
The second half of this slide suggests that a child with an SLD may have needs related to their gender identity that are not “limited to academic needs.” It goes further to suggest that the student may “require counseling” related to his or her gender identity. If a student with an SLD is referred to psychological counseling services through special education, would the parents be notified of this referral and the reason for it? It is important to keep in mind that in the state of California, H&S Code 124260 allows a child age 12 and over to consent to outpatient mental health services without parental knowledge or consent.
The second hypothetical case, presented in this slide, is a nonbinary student being evaluated for Emotional Disturbance (ED). Like Specific Learning Disability, Emotional Disturbance is one of the eligibility categories that the California Department of Education uses to qualify students for special education services. ED can be used as an eligibility category for impairments/disabilities that don’t fall under the other eligibility categories. Examples of impairments that meet criteria for Emotional Disturbance include ADHD and schizophrenia. The slide gives the definition that schools use to determine if a student meets the eligibility criteria to receive special education services for ED. It appears that this presentation is stating that impairments due to society’s oppression of gender-diverse children can now potentially meet criteria for the Emotional Disturbance eligibility category for special education. Please note that the bolded categories, “An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships,” feelings of “unhappiness or depression,” and issues related to “personal or school problems” are all measured by social emotional learning surveys that many students take twice a year.
Please remember that earlier in this article, Slide 81 stated that “transgender or gender diverse gender identity is not itself a qualifying condition for special education services under Section 504 and IDEA.” A student must have an impairment or disability that fits into one of the 13 eligibility categories or they do not qualify for special education services. The information presented in this slide appears to suggest that a “transgender or gender diverse” student could qualify for special education services under the Emotional Disturbance eligibility category, but he or she must have a diagnosis that would allow for eligibility. Neither “transgender” nor “gender diverse” are medical or psychiatric diagnoses, so they cannot be used to determine eligibility. However, Slide 81 suggests that a diagnosis of gender dysphoria (a psychiatric condition in which a person feels extreme discomfort in his or her biological sex), depression, anxiety, or psychosis could potentially lead to qualification for special education services under Emotional Disturbance.
This slide also encourages special education assessors to “Check your biases” because “exhibiting transgender or gender diverse identity does not fall under ‘inappropriate types of behavior or feelings.’” Exhibiting a “gender diverse” identity may not be inappropriate, but it certainly falls out of the range of normal feelings and behavior.
What does it mean that a child’s “general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression” is caused by “the way their identity is viewed and treated by community, society at large?” Does this include their treatment by their family, and more specifically, their parents? And how would this potentially qualify a student for special education services? What services would be offered through special education to address the way society views a student’s gender identity?
The third hypothetical case, presented in this slide, is a transgender student with autism. While the previous hypothetical examples elicit general cause for concern, this one is gravely concerning. Some children with autism are severely disabled and unable to communicate in a meaningful way. This slide provides the definition of the autism eligibility category.
This slide cites two studies that conclude that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are “7.59 times more likely to express gender variance than the control group.” The studies were conducted prior to the recent ramp up in gender ideology indoctrination in schools. The order of magnitude greater likelihood to express gender variance suggests that as many ASD experts note, ASD youth are highly suggestible. What is not disclosed in this slide is what consequential outcomes emerge from this higher expression of gender variance. Do youth with ASD who express gender variance usually desist at a later time or do they ask to transition to the opposite gender? According to current guidelines from organizations like the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) and GLSEN (formerly the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), these children would now be encouraged to socially transition, and perhaps medically transition. Knowing that ASD youth are 7.59 times more likely to express gender variance should demand caution from adults when talking to these children about such topics. Instead the slide and those that follow encourage assisting ASD youth in how to properly transition given they “cannot copy behaviors well.”
England’s only National Health Service gender clinic, the Gender Identity and Development Services (GIDS), released data in 2018 which showed that 35% of patients treated there had “moderate to severe autistic traits.” A similar 2018 study in Australia found that 22.5% of transgender adolescents had been diagnosed with autism, compared to 2.5% in the general population. There is an overrepresentation of children on the autism spectrum who present with “gender diversity.” The “My Name Is….” presentation appears to indicate that this is all the more reason to affirm and transition children. We believe that the opposite approach should be taken: special education staff should be encouraged to use caution and put in place rigorous safeguards to protect highly suggestible and impressionable children with autism from gender ideology.
This slide describes possible interactions between autism and gender identity. It states that children with autism may have trouble communicating their gender diversity to others. If a child with autism has difficulty communicating, then how do special education staff determine if the child’s gender diversity is a separate issue from his or her autism? And would staff keep this information from the child’s parents? What are the psychological effects on a child with autism who has one identity at school and another at home? Please note that one of the sources listed for the information on this slide is Gender Spectrum, a radical gender identity ideology organization that Glendale Unified School District has contracted with repeatedly to provide training to school staff and that La Canada Unified School District uses as the source for their Gender Support Plan.
This slide encourages special education assessors to consider how the gender identity of a student with autism might “interact with AUT criteria.”It specifically asks if the student has “difficulty communicating their gender identity to others?” If a child with autism has such a great degree of difficulty communicating, why would the assessor be concerned with the student’s gender identity? It also asks, “Does the student perseverate on issues related to gender and gender identity?” This could very well be a symptom of the child’s autism, as opposed to a separate issue with gender identity.
The Every Child Counts Symposium included the additional slide posted above (Slide #91). The information after the last bullet point on this slide is vitally important. It explains the most basic purpose of special education services: to provide a student with a disability with services that allow him or her to access and benefit from a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Much of the discussion throughout this presentation seems to lose sight of this fact.
This slide lists potential goals and services the IEP team might develop for a student with autism and “Gender Diversity.” It specifically lists “Counseling, social skills, speech services” as potential services an IEP team could propose. Proposed goals listed are: “Frustration tolerance, coping skills, communication.” Frustration intolerance and difficulty with coping and communication are not unusual symptoms of autism regardless of gender identity, so perhaps the IEP team should already be addressing these “goals.” Would the student’s parents be informed of these goals and services?
Given the vulnerability of special education students, it would seem prudent for school administrators to err on the side of caution – avoid presenting potentially life-altering ideas to impressionable kids – and at the least involve the adults in the lives of these vulnerable children who know them best – their parents. But the repeated presentations of this material to school staff who work with special education students and to administrators in charge of special education programs suggest they are taking the opposite approach. The lawyers asked to speak on behalf of California education “experts” advise withholding information from parents and treating special needs students with special attention. While there is no direct evidence that special education students are specifically being targeted, it gives one pause given the time and effort devoted to them in these presentations.
If you are concerned about this special attention given to special education students when pushing gender ideology, please contact the Ventura and Santa Barbara County SELPAs and let them know what you think:
Emily Mostovoy-Luna, Associate Superintendent, Ventura County SELPA – <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ray Avila, Executive Director, Santa Barbara County SELPA – <email@example.com>
In addition, you can contact your district’s Special Education department to find out what practices and safeguards are in place:
Burbank USD Director of Special Education – Paulette Koss <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Gender Identity K-12 Team
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, is the 1990 federal law that “makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.”
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law that prevents discrimination by a federally funded program against an individual based on a disability. It also requires public entities to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. It is “designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance.” This includes public schools.
Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) is the program that delivers services to special education students throughout California. For example, Glendale USD, La Canada USD, and Burbank USD students receive services through the Foothill SELPA. Students in all Ventura County school districts receive services through the Ventura County Office of Education SELPA. Students in Santa Barbara County school districts receive special education services through Santa Barbara County SELPA.
An Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, is a legal document written for a special education student that “describes the plan for the student’s educational program, including current performance levels, student goals, and the educational placement and other services the student will receive.”
The “Every Child Counts Symposium” slide presentation was slightly different than the VCOE and Santa Barbara presentations - Slide 90 has minor organizational modifications and Slide 91 is new. The following commentary will reference this amended presentation.