First-grader prompts Cumberland schools to address gender identity

Posted January 13, 2014
Updated January 14, 2014

— Cumberland County Schools leaders say they will work to develop a policy about how to accommodate students who identify as the opposite gender after parents say they were unaware that a first-grade student at Fayetteville's Howard Hall Elementary School started dressing and behaving in a manner commonly associated with girls.

"Once the (school) board attorney confirms that we do have this particular student, that they are a student in the Cumberland County Schools, then (the attorney) is going to get the school board together and address the policy that needs to be in place," Cumberland County Schools school board member Michael Boose said Monday.

"We're going to be in compliance with all federal and state laws and try to make the child as welcomed as we can under the circumstances," he added.

The school system recently became aware of the matter after parents expressed concerns that they weren't notified that the child started wearing girl's clothes and going by a female name, painting her nails and going to girls' restrooms.

Some parents, like Robin Campbell, say they were surprised when their children began coming home and asking questions.

Campbell, who has a second-grader at Howard Hall, says she doesn’t mind that the school is accommodating the child but that she feels administrators could have done a better job informing parents.

"It should have been brought up with the parents," Campbell said. "The parents should have been told so that we could answer questions our kids may have."

Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Frank Till was out of town Monday and unavailable for comment.

Pam Long, a friend of the child's family, said her parents allowed her to identify as a girl at the advice of their psychologist.

So how should parents talk with their children about a person who dresses or acts in ways associated with the opposite gender – classified as gender dysphoria by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?

Local child psychologists advise parents to keep the conversation age-appropriate. A child might be too young to understand gender identity and sexuality, but they can grasp the concept of being different.

Experts also recommend that parents focus conversation on how a child can accept someone's differences and advise parents to encourage their children to ask questions, even if they don't immediately have the answers.

Psychologists recommend that parents work through their reaction to gender dysphoria separately from talking with their children. Experts say children might repeat something they hear out of context, which could have adverse effects on others.

Gender dysphoria and how schools handle transgender students is something schools are coming to address more and more.

In California, for example, a law went into effect this month requiring public schools to let children use sex-segregated facilities and participate in gender-specific activities of their choice.

Proponents of the law – the nation's first – say it protects students from bullying and better protects their rights. Those opposed to the measure are trying to get the law repealed.


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  • RGMTRocks Jan 16, 2014

    View quoted thread


  • billggibsonii Jan 15, 2014

    I disagree.

  • aebrain Jan 15, 2014

    Everyone has a right to their own opinions. No-one has a right to their own facts. By all means believe the Earth is flat, or that the Sun orbits it. The facts say otherwise. So too with the idea that everyone is 100% male or 100% female.
    Intersex people exist. Humans who change sex naturally exist - Google "guevedoces urology" to see that.
    And some are born with mostly male bodies, but mostly female brains. We've known this for nearly 20 years now, it's visible on MRI and PET scans.
    Unfortunately many medics are taught from books over 20 years old, and by professors who were taught from books even older. So we can't blame the general public for not understanding the science here.
    All we can do is try to inform, not arrogantly tell others what to think. But we should draw the line when those who don't bother trying to find out the facts act with cruelty to a 1st grade girl, born with the unfortunate situation of looking male. She has enough on her plate without cruelty too.

  • yankee17 Jan 14, 2014

    I don't think believing that there are 2 sexes- male and female- is displaying ignorance and hate. I have the right to believe as I wish, and not be called names for it. I have the right to believe, and want my children to grow up believeing that is is best to have a mom and a dad. Does that make me a hater? No.

  • KDANGT Jan 14, 2014

    We are constantly making concessions for children who have all sorts of different needs. For example, accessibility for handicapped children, speech therapy, special needs, allergen awareness, etc. This issue is no different. This has been spun to be a problem for parents because they are simply lazy and do not want to address questions their children may have with an educated and tolerant response. The words have not been used, but I see all too clear by some of your responses that many of you are displaying ignorance and hate. I am more bothered that my children attend school with kids who are raised by people who would judge another person because of an issue they clearly don't understand verses my child befriend, love and cherish this little girl. Everyone preaches tolerance yet, what unfolds each and every day in the eyes of our youth is older generations refusing to accept what they cannot understand. I am just ashamed of the depth of empathy that is lacking for this child.

  • mtrull505 Jan 14, 2014

    I don't think the parents are doing anything wrong, I think it is our society that is kind of wrong. Before all of the opinions, judgements, etc. That we have learned as we age, these are children. These children don't see it as wrong. They don't understand why it is such a big deal to call her a girl. They don't understand why we have to get the news team, lawyers, etc. involved. I wish we were more like this in North Carolina. Instead of seeing things with our learned misconceptions we should see them through the child's eyes. The child just wants to be a girl and dress like a girl, the children in class and in the school do not care. All they care about is to have someone to play and get along with which is something to learn from. Regardless of gender identity and preference of clothing attire we are all humans who were born to love.

  • jackaroe123 Jan 14, 2014

    "...and you better not send a little boy dressed as a girl to the bathroom with her, just because he has issues... Talk about setting a child up to be picked on, you can't expect the other kids in 1st grade to understand this."

    Yeah, okay, since you mention it, let's have that talk about setting a child up to be picked on: We should start w/ your parenting style and how you'll be modeling how to be a bully to your child.

  • icdumbpeople Jan 14, 2014

    I was a huge tom boy when I was that age. I climbed trees, played with cars and jumped my bikes through the mud! I wanted my hair short and be one of the guys. Thank GOODNESS no shrink or my parents would do this to me! The BOY is 6 YEARS OLD! (don't call him a girl because he is NOT a girl. Now that I am grown, I still ride horses , atvs and play in the mud - but I love me some MEN! What would have happened if this would have happened to me? A deep depression.. that is what!

  • lkmw Jan 14, 2014

    I am so saddened by most of the comments here. I realize that it comes from ignorance of and lack of experience with this situation, since this is (thankfully) rare. This child is not ill, and there is nothing sexual about it. No parent would wish for their precious child to face this lifelong challenge, and this little girl is lucky to have parents who are open-minded enough to have taken the time to educate themselves and realize that what she is feeling is very real. It is not something to be "fixed," it is something to be validated. I know a family who is going through this process with their now 6 year old, and the parents are incredibly thoughtful people who have now spent years reading, talking to experts, and learning their child. At first they assumed it was something that would pass, but now it couldn't be clearer that she is a girl. Yes, even at age 6. Please don't bash these families and children if you've never met them.

  • meldenis Jan 14, 2014

    The parents weren't very observant to not notice painted nails & what clothes there child had possession of.