NC schools investigate complaint over students being asked their gender and sexuality

The Wake County school system is looking into the complaint made against a high school teacher for asking students to answer questions about their gender, sexuality, religion and socio-economic status.

Wake County has generated national headlines over how an English teacher at Heritage High School in Wake Forest asked her 10th-grade students to fill out a “Diversity Inventory” worksheet filled with personal questions about them and their families.

The school district’s human resource department will meet Wednesday with parent Dina Bartus and her 15-year-old son. Bartus’s complaints caused the lesson to be discontinued.

School officials say it’s standard procedure to investigate complaints filed by parents.

Bartus said she wants to make sure that this kind of privacy violation doesn’t happen again. She said she doesn’t want the teacher to be fired, but she doesn’t think that the woman should be allowed to teach minors.

“I can’t for the life of me think that any person with any brain in their head would think it’s appropriate to ask children these questions and to collect this information when it’s not appropriate to ask these questions when applying for a job,” Bartus said in an interview Friday.

The News & Observer is not naming the teacher, who school officials say is still teaching at the school.

Bartus said the problems began on Tuesday, the second day of classes, when the teacher asked students to write down their gender, race/ethnicity, age, sexuality, ability, religion and socio-economic status.

The teacher then asked students questions such as what part of their identity did they feel made them privileged, according to Bartus. Students were asked to stand by signs that listed their answer, with the choices being the categories they had been asked about earlier such as gender and sexuality.

Bartus said she complained Tuesday to the teacher, to a guidance counselor and to Scott Lyons, the principal.

On Wednesday, Bartus said the teacher handed out the Diversity Inventory worksheet, which asked the same questions as before such as sexuality and religion. In addition to answering for themselves, students were asked to answer about their elementary school, their teachers, close friends, doctor, other people who live in their home and their neighbors.

“She had no right to do this, and we still don’t know what happened to all those forms that the kids filled out,” Bartus said.

School officials say worksheets are educational artifacts that would typically be collected and preserved.

In a message Thursday to parents, Lyons said the worksheet was not a resource that was provided by the school or the district. Lyons also said that any discussions about identity, culture and other sensitive topics must respect and value student privacy.

But Bartus said this isn’t the first time that parents complained about the teacher asking students to answer questions about their identity and culture. Parents also complained in February, prompting Lyons to send a letter noting that an assignment could have been done differently while adding that the details of the review are confidential.

Bartus says the Diversity Inventory assignment shows why parents should have a say in the lessons being taught in the classroom.

“If you’re going to teach something that might be a little divisive, parents should have an option to opt their kids out of it,” she said.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.