A series of stories with the same theme has cropped up across the nation: School administrators are using “gender support plans” to help young children transition into the gender identity of their choice, without the knowledge or consent of their parents. 

Last year, independent journalist Abigail Shrier reported on how one New York mother’s local middle school district started her 12-year-old daughter’s gender change behind her back — including a new name, pronouns, and referrals to a clinic that prescribes puberty blockers.

CNA was able to interview this mom, referred to here as “Anna” to protect her family's privacy. 

“It has been life-changing,” Anna told CNA over the phone about her family’s difficult experience.

Here is what worried parents should know:

What are gender support plans? 

The use of gender support plans is on the rise across the country, which schools are using to “affirm” students’ gender identities without their parents knowing. 

Gender Spectrum is one organization that has systemized gender support plans by providing training and templates to educators, schools, and groups that work with youth across the country.

Gender Spectrum’s downloadable form is frequently used by school districts to easier customize a “gender-affirming” plan for how a “student’s authentic gender will be accounted for and supported at school.” Gender Spectrum did not respond to CNA’s requests for comment.

More in US

Gender support plans include procedures for the child to “socially transition” while at school with a new name, clothing, and pronouns and referrals to gender clinics for counseling and treatment, such as prescriptions for puberty blockers. 

Frequently missing from the picture? Parents. 

“The school actively deceived me,” Anna said. Without her knowledge, the school drafted a gender support plan for her then 11-year-old, instructing teachers and school administrators of her new name, gender identity, and pronouns “they/them.”

The redacted plan for Anna’s daughter asks, “Are guardians/any family aware [of her transition]?”

The box for “no” is checked next to “Are they supportive?” with “not ready to tell family” written next to it. 

Another box is checked for “Discussed risk of accidentally outing student at home.” 

The school also granted Anna’s daughter an entire year of counseling at a local gender clinic that provides access to chest binders, hormone blockers, and referrals for irreversible breast removal and genital surgeries. 

(Story continues below)

The National Education Association (NEA) promotes using gender support plans without parents when “appropriate.” 

“In some instances, a school may choose not to bring the subject up if there is a concern that parents or caregivers may react negatively,” NEA’s co-authored guide on gender support plans reads. 

Sometimes, the guide says, school officials may be called into court to testify about what would be in “a child’s best interest” in custody disputes.

“School officials interact with the student on a daily basis and focus on supporting the student’s growth and development, which gives school personnel unique insight into the student’s needs without the biases parents can or are perceived to have,” it argues.

The NEA did not respond to CNA’s requests for comment prior to the time of publication.

How do I know if my child has a gender support plan?

Figuring out if your child has a gender support plan at school is not always clear-cut. 

Nicki Neily, president of Defending Ed, told CNA that parents have to start by looking in the right places — often embedded in the websites of school districts or under a school’s “counseling resources” tab.

If a school’s gender policies are not apparent online, she said, it’s time to ask questions. “Ask the teacher, ask the principal: Does this district have a gender support plan in place?”

It’s not just about pronouns, she added. Parents should also ask about school policies on overnight field trips, sporting events, bathrooms, and locker-room access, “so they can make plans and triangulate accordingly,” she explained.

However, a school implementing gender support plans for students behind the backs of parents may not be forthright about their policies on gender ideology.

For Anna, it took extensive time and effort to pinpoint what was going on with her child. 

How do I know if my child is at risk?

Anna told CNA that she started by trying to understand why there were at least seven other children in her daughter’s peer group who were renamed and reassigned their gender. 

“I started to hear very similar statements from my daughter and two others that were just too similar,” she said. “It was like everyone was getting their information from the same place.”

Through messages and online searches on her daughter’s computer and phone, it appeared that all of the students were echoing the same statements. 

The real breakthrough appeared when she came across a download that linked to a page on the school’s counseling resources. From there, kids were connected to transgender services — most of them anonymous — putting them on a pathway to get medical-affirming procedures anonymously, Anna said.

Not uncommon stories 

Stories like Anna’s are becoming less of an anomaly. Earlier this month, the Independent Women’s Forum reported on a 15-year-old girl living in Alaska whose school “intentionally deceived” her parents by helping her socially transition with a new name, pronouns, and counseling without their knowledge. 

A recent UCLA report published in June found that 18% of the transgender population in the U.S. is comprised of children ages 13 to 17 — roughly 300,000 total. That's up from 10% in 2017. 

For parents who are concerned, witnessing signs of emotional distress in a child may not be enough to pinpoint the cause. 

Theresa Farnan, a Catholic author and moral philosopher, recommends that parents need to try their best to be actively involved in their children’s schools. Farnan is an advocate of homeschooling, but when public schools are a family’s only option she urges parents to have “eyes on the ground.”

One way parents can do this is by volunteering to work in a school’s transportation office, library, or lunchroom. 

“If you're volunteering, say on lunch duty, and you're walking through school heading into the end of May, you're going to see the pride display,” she said.

Farnan stresses that Catholic parents must discuss these topics with their children. 

“You've got to establish that open line of communication [and] articulate what the Church teaches,” she added.

The Catholic Church teaches that a human person’s sex is inherent to his or her own dignity and soul. “By creating the human being man and woman, God gives personal dignity equally to the one and the other,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (No. 2393).

Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, released “A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology” last year. The guide specifically addresses the role of parents in caring for a child who is struggling with gender dysphoria. 

“[A] strong source of misinformation about the nature of the person and the meaning of the body is, regrettably, the public education system,” the bishop wrote. “Staff in many schools are required to affirm a child’s declared ‘gender identity’ and facilitate a child’s ‘transition,’ even in the absence of parental notice or permission.”

Parents of public schoolchildren "must therefore discuss specific Catholic teaching on these issues with their children and be even more vigilant and vocal against this false and harmful ideology,” the Burbidge said, adding that parents can find counsel and support in the Church and her sacraments.

“In difficult circumstances, parents are often tempted to think — or are made to feel — that their Catholic faith is at odds with what is good for their child. In fact, authentic love for their children is always aligned with the truth,” he added.

Where can I get help? 

National parental-rights organizations want parents to know that they are not alone in fighting for the right to protect their children from school policies threatening their well-being, health, and faith. 

Kate Anderson, senior counsel with the nonprofit legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is the director of the Center for Parental Rights, says that gender support plans that exclude parents are illegal. 

“Schools are absolutely in violation of the law when they implement medical treatment, which [is what] gender support plans often lead to, without the parents’ consent or knowledge,” Anderson said. 

ADF is currently representing parents free of charge across the country in litigation over gender support plans. 

Defending Ed, meanwhile, gives parents advice on knowing where to start and even helps parents request public records to get to the bottom of what their school’s policies are. 

“If parents are not able to find what they need, or if they’re being stonewalled, we are always happy to step in and help,” Neily said.

Anna says that her daughter is in a “much better place” than last year. She is now enrolled in a private Catholic school that she says “doesn't seem to be participating in any [of what] New York state imposes on children.”