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Indiana teacher forced to resign over school’s transgender policy

Lisa Bourne Lisa Bourne Follow Lisa

BROWNSBURG, Indiana, June 6, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — An Indiana teacher plans to file an appeal to get his job back after he said his employer forced him to resign for refusing to go along with the school’s transgender policy.

John Kluge said the school district's policy mandating that teachers call transgender students by their preferred names, as opposed to the name they were given at birth, goes against his religious beliefs. He also argued that the requirement violates his First Amendment rights. 

"I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that's a dangerous lifestyle," he said. "I’m fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing."

Kluge said he turned in a provisional letter of resignation only because the Brownsburg Community School Corporation (BCSC) threatened to fire him with three weeks left in the school year, IndyStar.com reported. Kluge submitted the letter of resignation as orchestra teacher for Brownsburg High School with instructions that it not be processed until May 29, which was after the school year ended.

Then, according to Kluge, on May 25, the last day of school for Brownsburg students, he requested to withdraw the letter. But he was locked out of the district's email system later that day, and some colleagues informed him the district had issued a job posting for a high school orchestra teacher.

Kluge, 28, has been with the Brownsburg district for four years, and had an agreement with the high school administration that permitted him to address all students — whether they identify as transgender or not — by their last name.

This seemed like an acceptable compromise, he said. And he had not explained to students why was using last names during the school year. 

"I wanted to present an environment where I wasn’t going to push one way or the other," Kluge said.

He was then told a few months ago that he could no longer use last names only, beginning next school year. Kluge said the school’s administration did not disclose why it was making this change. 

The Brownsburg Community Schools declined to comment on the district's transgender student policies, the IndyStar report said, though a district representative did say Kluge had submitted his resignation before the end of the school year and the administration accepted it.

An internal document posted online by the Indiana Family Institute (IFI) confirmed that the BCSC had agreed to allow teachers to use students’ last name only for the 2017-2018 school year, but that “moving forward it is our expectation the student will be called by the first name listed in PowerSchool.”

A Brownsburg Schools representative confirmed that the transgender guidance document, which is in question-and-answer format and dated January 3, 2018, was distributed to employees.

Not accepting

The internal document grouped teachers that call students by their last names along with those who “don’t use correct pronouns” as examples of “classrooms where teachers are not accepting,” and said non-acceptance made transgender students feel “dehumanized” and uncomfortable.

After a student receives the required approval from the student’s parent/s and a health care professional, the document states, their name is changed in the district's online record-keeping system (PowerSchool), at which time teachers are directed to then refer to students by that name. 

Kluge said he is not comfortable with this practice, because using the preferred name implies agreement with the student's identifying as transgender.

Kluge said he respects the students even though he doesn't agree with some of their decisions, but he wouldn’t encourage them to take part in something dangerous.

"I really do care for all of my students," he said, "which is why I don’t want to be compelled to speak in such a way that I believe I’ll be encouraging them in something that’s dangerous."

One LGBT advocate commented that using a trans-identifying person’s preferred name is a matter of respect.

"This is not a request for advocacy," said Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for homosexual advocacy group The Trevor Project. "This is a request for respect."

Support for Kruge

The IFI has organized a letter-writing campaign in support of Kruge.

The letter asks the school board to give Kluge his job back, citing his positive record and saying he was forced out for refusing to encourage students’ gender confusion and therefore putting their well-being at risk.

“Brownsburg School Corporation is sending a message to their best teachers that they must violate their conscience and encourage students down a dangerous path or accept termination,” it stated. “It appears that the real intolerance at Brownsburg High School lies in the hands of the administration against teachers who hold a sincere faith and a sacrificial love for their students.”

IFI pointed out on its website that the Brownsburg policy allows for transgender-identifying students to use the bathroom facilities of the opposite sex, which is confirmed in the BCSC document.   

It also provided an endorsement for Kluge from a Brownsburg parent, and a statement from Kluge.

"I view my responsibility to students in my community as more than just helping them become the best musicians they can be, though I certainly devote a considerable amount of time and effort to that worthy goal,” Kluge stated. “My responsibility includes their overall well-being.” 

“I wish to remain a teacher in good standing with the administration,” he said. “However, as much as I love my job and would desire to keep it, I cannot take actions that could encourage harm to the students in my care and provide a poor example for others. I ultimately must submit my conscience to a higher authority."  

Hope Community Church Pastor Jim Bohrer said Kluge is a well-liked teacher who has always shown respect to all of his students, speaking from his perspective of having his daughter in Kluge's orchestra class.

"He treats them all the same," Bohrer said. "He cares deeply. This is not an issue of John excluding anyone. This is purely the administration trying to get rid of John for his convictions."

Others concerned about safety

Bohrer said others among the school community are also concerned about gender-confused students being allowed access to bathrooms of the opposite sex by Brownsburg schools.

"Parents in church have shared concerns about safety issues," he said.

Former Brownsburg parent Connie Duvall removed her daughter from Brownsburg High School after the freshman girl witnessed a female student who identifies as male use the men's restroom. Duvall said she talked to the school’s administration about her concerns that male students could take advantage of the policy to use the women's restroom. But she felt she was not taken seriously, and subsequently put her daughter in private school.

"We totally did not feel our daughter was safe," Duvall said. 

Schools no longer compelled by the Feds to provide transgender bathroom access

Barack Obama’s Department of Education issued “guidance” to U.S. public schools in 2016 that mandated transgender students have access to the showers, bathroom and locker rooms of their choosing – and be able to stay in the same overnight accommodations as students of the opposite sex on field trips - or risk losing federal funding. It was roundly criticized and objected to by several states. The Trump administration revoked the Obama edict in early 2017. 

Kluge still hopes to get his job back.

"They’re acting as if I have (resigned), even though I’m pleading, 'no,'" he said. "I'm not dead yet. I still want to work here."

He will petition to keep his job before the school board at its next meeting on June 11.

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