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DC Public Schools surveying students on gender identity, sexuality using controversial service

DCPS High School{ }(File photo) (7News)
DCPS High School (File photo) (7News)
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Middle and high school students in Washington, D.C. are asked to share both their gender identity and sexuality in a survey distributed yearly within their district.

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) utilizes Panorama Student Survey to ask students about their perception of themselves, their social-emotional competencies and their schools each fall and spring. The partnership between DCPS and Panorama Education, the company which designs the surveys, has existed since 2017, and surveys have been administrated yearly since.

There are two separate surveys, one for grades 3-5 and one for grades 6-12. While the younger students' questions primarily center around comfort and support in school, the questions for the older students dive deeper.

At the end of the middle and high school survey, a section on demographics asks students to note if "heterosexual," "gay or lesbian," "bisexual," "questioning/not sure" or "other" best describes their sexual identity.

The next question reads "Some people describe themselves as transgender when their sex at birth does not match the way they think or feel about their gender. Are you transgender?" and students must indicate "yes," "no" or "I am not sure."

There is no available data showing how students have answered those questions in the past. However, a breakdown of Spring 2022 results reveals DCPS uses the responses to categorize overall survey results, as it does race, gender and special education status.

Parents and guardians do have the option to opt their child out of the survey, but a student cannot opt themselves out if they are under 18. According to DCPS's website, parents and guardians are sent instructions on how to opt-out in the weeks leading up to each survey.

DCPS says it uses the surveys to evaluate students' progress on the district's Loved, Challenged and Prepared Index (LCPI). The results help determine new goals, as well as allow principals and school teams to implement new programs and interventions to "improve school climate and social emotional learning."

That language closely aligns with the survey creator, Panorama Education, which has previously been at the center of controversy.

The Boston-based company was co-founded by Alexander 'Xan' Tanner, son-in-law of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. Tanner was also the president of the company from 2012 to 2020. Some pointed figures at Tanner after Garland directed the FBI to investigate alleged threats against school boards from parents opposed to implementing critical race theory (CRT) in schools, as Panorama has previously held workshops on CRT-related ideas.

Panorama has also been accused of being left-leaning, as one of its partners that helped develop its curriculum is Learning for Justice, an organization that says it works to "be a catalyst for racial justice" and to "dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements and advance the human rights of all people."

"Our recommended survey questions do not ask about students’—or their families’— values, beliefs, practices, sex behaviors or attitudes," a Panorama Education spokesperson told The National Desk (TND). "We also do not provide curriculum to students. Decisions about survey content, how surveys are administered, and other ways of engaging with Panorama are made by schools and districts. Local school districts know best which of our tools, offerings, and survey questions are right for their communities."

The fall survey opened for DCPS students last Monday, and it will close on Nov. 4.

TND has reached out to DCPS for comment. This story will be updated if a response is received.

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Concerned about something in your child's school district? Call or text the national Crisis in the Classroom tip line at 202-417-7273.

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