In June 2022, two Centennial Elementary School students in Olympia, Washington, disappeared. Their parents, Indian immigrants, had quietly driven them out of state, to Oregon, before they eventually decided to fly back to their former home country. No one in Olympia has seen the children since.
“My daughter mentioned that Tia had been gone from school for a couple of weeks,” said Jess Davis, whose daughter was a classmate of Tia’s, one of the family’s children. (I have changed most of the names in this report to respect requests for anonymity.) “We were at an ice cream social that our neighborhood has at the end of the school year, and I was thinking about them.” So she decided to text Tia’s mother to ask why they weren’t there. The mother “got back to me and said, ‘Sorry, we are out of town,’” Davis explained. Evidently, the family was still hiding and hadn’t yet left the country. The mother texted Davis again, “and said, ‘Can I call you?’ And she dumped it all out.”
Tia, who was ten, had apparently just gone through a social gender transition at school, encouraged by her teacher. Olympia School District is one of at least 1,000 districts nationwide that have enacted secrecy policies for kids who express gender dysphoria; so for months, Tia’s parents had no idea what had happened. When they finally learned of their child’s secret identity, they came into conflict with a public school system that had embraced gender ideology’s radical notion that parents who don’t unquestioningly affirm their child’s gender choices pose a danger to that child. Tia’s parents’ protests were, consequently, treated as illegitimate.
“Mrs. A [Tia’s teacher] is stalking my daughter,” Tia’s mother told Davis. “What is she going to do to my daughter?”
Paper copies of the following e-mail messages, among others, from Mrs. A to Tia’s school e-mail address were anonymously placed in the mailbox of local mother and activist Alesha Perkins in the early summer of 2023. Most were sent after Tia’s parents had taken their children to Oregon.
“Make sure this email is deleted too when we are done bc otherwise when your mom looks, you will be outed instantly.”
“I kept emailing you but I was worried your mom interfered before you saw my messages.”
“I was also serious I would take you into my own home anytime you need.”
“You need to get a personal email set up so we still have a way to communicate!”
“I’m worried you’re going to leave and I will never be able to be reached.”
When Perkins publicized the e-mails on Facebook, they sent shockwaves through the community. “This is probably the most disturbing thing that I’ve seen because it is on such a level of coordinated deception that so many people have to play a part in, including young children,” Perkins told [un]Divided, a local journalism website.
By all accounts, district administrators regarded Mrs. A as an exceptional teacher. In previous years, she had trained other teachers at the district level, had won praise from Centennial Elementary’s principal, and worked on the school’s leadership team. “She was always the face you saw on the website,” said Rudy Davis, Jess’s husband.
Other parents with children in her class found her to be engaged and caring. “We all liked Mrs. A,” said Anne Crawford, mother of another classmate of Tia’s. “We thought she was a great teacher. . . . She would let me know if [our daughter] was having trouble in class or was feeling down. And she attended a church that we went to.”
Mrs. A’s attentive and affectionate teaching style seemingly cloaked a darker side, though, according to several sources. “She’d constantly be pulling a few girls to the side to talk,” said a teacher who worked with her. “It was almost always girls of diverse ethnicities. She’d put her arms around them a lot. It got to the point where one of the girls started dressing like her and acting like her. It was extremely odd.”
Mrs. A is also a committed advocate of gender ideology. In public, she praised the district for its absolutist LGBTQ policies, like one disallowing parents from opting their children out of Pride Month curricula. And within Centennial, she worked to implement such policies. Alongside the principal, she apparently led a staff meeting in the spring of 2022 to discuss the district’s secrecy policy.
“She and the principal had put together a slide show saying, ‘You have to do this,’ ” said the same teacher. “They implied that if we didn’t comply, we could lose our jobs or be arrested. It got my attention. Mrs. A went over the data management system to show how we could hide information from parents about name and gender. One teacher spoke up in the meeting but was shot down and shamed for even asking a question. . . . I had not heard of any of this before.”
Around that time, Tia earned Mrs. A’s special attention. Classmates of Tia’s described her as a quiet but happy girl who loved to draw. No one could point to any particular reason that Tia became Mrs. A’s focus, but suddenly “Mrs. A kind of started to spend much more time with her,” said Rachel Hammel’s daughter, another classmate of Tia’s. “She would be sitting next to her when she was teaching. She would be near her at recess. They had a lot of private conversations.”
No definitive explanation could be confirmed for how the subject of transitioning genders came up between teacher and student. Two of Tia’s classmates and one local mother indicated, though, that it may have started when Tia wore a traditional Indian dress for a school event. She apparently complained of it being itchy to Mrs. A. From there, the classmates claimed, Mrs. A brought up the notion that perhaps she didn’t like girls’ clothing because she wasn’t a girl. (Mrs. A did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
Then, in April, Mrs. A stood with Tia at the front of her class and told them that Tia had changed her name and pronouns. Her new name was Felix, her new pronouns were “he/him/they/them,” and no one outside school was to know. Tia’s parents couldn’t know. The other students in the class couldn’t tell their parents, either, for fear of one of them outing Tia to her parents. But much of the school staff was made aware via an e-mail sent by Mrs. A announcing that Tia “has opened up to me these past few months and has just requested this change. . . . This change is his right and is not to be questioned.” The e-mail also instructed fellow staff not to change Tia’s information in the school’s “skyward” electronic database in order to ensure that the parents remained unaware. It was a secret between the children and the adults in their school, to be kept from their families. (One of Tia’s classmates told me that the name Felix came from one of Tia’s favorite cartoons.)
For a while, the children did what they were told. But this was a group of ten-year-olds; no secret could last long, and one this weighty began to take its toll. “The girls would never be allowed to say her real name in front of Mrs. A because Mrs. A would correct them,” said Hammel. “Because of this, [Hammel’s daughter] stopped hanging out with Tia outside of school and on the playground. She didn’t know how to act.”
As her friends became increasingly confused and distant, Tia’s drawing lost its color. Pictures that were once vibrant turned black and white, her classmates said. And the already-quiet girl became even more reserved, wanting to talk only to Mrs. A.
One day, the class went on a field trip to visit the local middle school. Tia’s mother came along to chaperone, and Tia told her class to call her by her old name for the day. But on the walk, Anne Crawford’s daughter accidentally called her Felix. “Her mom was confused and asked her to call Tia by her normal name,” Crawford said, as her daughter relayed the story in the background of our phone call. “It was very confusing for [my daughter]; she was wondering why the girl was lying to her mom.”
“A little bit later, maybe in May, my daughter and a friend were both at the house working on a group project that Tia was also involved in,” Jess Davis recalled. “They were explaining each of their parts and when they got to the point of Tia’s part, my daughter suddenly didn’t know how to discuss her. She started doing this thing where she’d be looking up and would try to keep things straight, saying, ‘he, she, I mean . . . we are outside of school so, it’s she, but.’ She got to the point where she was hyperventilating. And I was watching this and just felt like, holy cow.”
“I stopped her and told her just to be kind and respectful,” Davis continued. “And I gave her permission not to participate in this.”
“No, Mom, we have to, or else we’ll get in trouble,” Davis’s daughter retorted, as her friend nodded. “You have to say it the right way.”
“They both had tears in their eyes at this point,” said Davis. “And my daughter’s friend said, ‘and we’re not supposed to tell our parents.’ ”
The secret was being divulged, and parents were starting to hear that a child in their local elementary school had transitioned genders—seemingly all the parents except Tia’s were hearing it.
But then Tia couldn’t handle it anymore. During Davis’s phone call with her at the ice cream social, Tia’s mother said that “her daughter had come to her and was crying and very upset. She was saying she wants to go to school, see her friends like normal, and doesn’t want to be a boy anymore. But Tia was afraid that Mrs. A would be mad at her and wouldn’t like her anymore. Her mom was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ ”
Tia’s mother had noticed the girl’s once-colorful art turning dark, Davis told me. “She wasn’t eating well. Her sleep was affected. She saw a dark cloud over her daughter, and her daughter wanted to talk only to Mrs. A, even at night and on weekends.”
So Tia’s mother decided to take Tia to school and confront Mrs. A. But as soon as Mrs. A realized that the mother knew, “Mrs. A stopped addressing the mom and started looking at the daughter and talking to her directly,” said Davis. “She asked Tia, ‘Are you OK? Do you need help?’ And the mom told her, ‘Stop talking to my daughter! Leave her alone!’ but Mrs. A wouldn’t acknowledge her.” So Tia’s mother left the classroom and sought out the principal and school counselor. But the principal informed her that “Mrs. A had done nothing wrong and was just following school policies,” Davis explained. “They treated her like she was crazy and had no grounds.”
The mother took Tia home, bewildered after a troubling conflict with the people charged with educating her daughter. Tia and her younger brother were quietly driven out of the state, to a house in Oregon, where they stayed for a while before leaving the country.
“The family is very scared,” Davis said. “They were struggling and had no idea what to do. The dad just wanted to get away from everything and forget that it ever happened. There’s a lot of shame. And a lot of, ‘How could we let this happen to our child, and we didn’t know?’ ”
Tia’s family has declined to speak to any media, including an interview request for this article. Instead, they gave friends permission to tell their story for them.
While they were in Oregon, e-mails from school administrators, asking where the parents were taking the children, started coming in. And then Mrs. A began e-mailing Tia at her school e-mail address. “She’s telling my daughter that she could live with her,” the mother informed Davis.
One would hope that Mrs. A is a renegade. How else could her behavior be explained? But she is not alone. In Massachusetts, two parents have appealed their lawsuit against the Ludlow School Committee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, after a lower-court judge ruled that the school’s keeping their child’s gender transition a secret was a “basic level of respect” that abides by state antidiscrimination laws. In Virginia, a mother is suing Appomattox County Public Schools after her daughter, who had secretly transitioned at school, ran away, was kidnapped by a sex trafficker, and then raped repeatedly in a locked room in Baltimore. In California, the Spreckels Union School District agreed to a $100,000 settlement with a local mother after she charged that the school staff “secretly convinced” her daughter that she was bisexual and transgender. Similar stories are unfolding in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Colorado, and other states.
In each of these cases, as in Tia’s, the actions of school staff were enabled by policy. And while these policies may seem ludicrous to most parents—71 percent, according to one poll—they are rationalized by the radical assertion that gender-dysphoric children face likely life-threatening danger all around them, including at home. The Ludlow Schools Superintendent, for example, asserted that “safety evaporates when [students] leave the confines of our buildings.”
For years, activist organizations like the Trevor Project, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and the ACLU have promulgated this dogma of danger by telling education officials that they have two options with gender-dysphoric kids: affirmation, or risk a high chance of the student’s suicide or abuse. And despite this false choice being based on dubious, if not refuted, data and individual instances of tragedy, it pulls on our human instinct to protect kids. When compelled by that instinct, the actions of someone like Mrs. A wind up portrayed as the compassionate choice of a teacher faced with a “wrenching new tension,” as the New York Times put it. And the schism manufactured between parents and children by policies proposed by these groups is deemed necessary and unavoidable.
In Washington State’s case, for example, policymakers enacted a law in 2019 directing school districts to address bullying and discrimination of students who transition genders. While the goal of reducing bullying is not controversial, the law does not delineate what constitutes bullying or how it is to be reduced, other than by requiring districts to create a plan that “at minimum” follows the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s model. In that model, the superintendent claims, “For parents who are not supportive, or who are not aware of the student’s transition at school, referring to their name and pronoun could be very dangerous.” And, of course, Olympia School District’s approach reflects that claim.
The policy cites the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as the law allowing districts to avoid that danger. “Information about a student’s gender status, legal name, or gender assigned at birth,” it says, “may constitute confidential medical or educational information,” and “disclosing this information to other students, their parents, or other third parties may violate privacy laws, such as FERPA” [emphasis added].
It’s true that FERPA could cover such information about a student, but it is not true that FERPA treats a student’s parents as third parties to that information, unless the student is 18 or older. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, minor children hold no right to privacy from their parents under federal law. And FERPA’s expressed purpose is, in fact, to enhance parents’ access to private information about their child that is warehoused in schools and kept from others without parental consent.
Unfortunately, FERPA requires parents to request information, and GLESN advises staff to use unofficial documentation systems that can disseminate a child’s new gender and pronouns within the school so that parents don’t get alerted. Mrs. A followed that playbook perfectly in her e-mail to school staff.
Neither the district nor state superintendents responded to requests for comment.
Of course, evidence of child abuse or suicidal thoughts should never be dismissed. But secrecy policies transform educators’ duty to report abuse into a duty to presume that abuse will happen. Based on that presumption of danger, staff are led to shield gender-dysphoric children from their parents. The involvement of parents in their children’s decisions, even if those decisions are life-altering and carry significant mental-health consequences, becomes discretional for the child, if not something to avoid. And with parents sidelined, the need of every child for adult guidance and support invites someone new to step in—someone like a Mrs. A.
Even the New York Times admits that “parents of all political persuasions” are “unsettled” by this new paradigm. But that understatement of parents’ feelings veils the fact that secrecy policies and the rationale behind them effectively dismantle American government’s long-standing deference to the parent–child relationship.
In 2000, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the majority in Troxel v. Granville—ironically, a Washington State case about child visitation rights—that “the interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court.” She went on to list numerous precedents affirming and reaffirming this principle in the face of repeated intrusion by various government agents, including public schools.
Given the rapid spread of secrecy policies and the multiplying parent-led lawsuits challenging them, the Court may yet again need to reaffirm that doctrine. After all, not every parent can flee the country, or even move to a new state, to escape America’s gender revolution.