Breaking: School Counselor Fired for Objecting to Secretive Gender-Transition Policy Sues District

Kathy McCord didn't recognize the reporter who left her a voicemail in late November requesting an interview. She'd never spoken to him before, and she couldn't think of any reason he might want to talk to a high-school counselor in the small Indiana town of Pendleton.

She didn't immediately call him back.

The next day, however, she started to put the pieces together.

After receiving the interview request, McCord learned that an email she'd sent earlier in the year was circulating in the community. In the email sent to a group of teachers at Pendleton Heights High School, McCord explained that a female student wanted to change her name, and to be referred to as "He/Him." But the child's "family is not supportive of this decision," she wrote, so when corresponding with the child's parents the teachers should refer to her as a girl.

McCord never approved of the district's new gender policy, which in some cases hid in-school transgender social transitions from parents, she said. But the school district forced her to comply with the policy, which it kept as a secret from the Republican-leaning community.

McCord eventually explained the policy, and her stance on it, to the reporter, who wrote about it days later for the Daily Signal, a digital outlet published by the Heritage Foundation.

And because of that, McCord was fired.

Last week, McCord sued the South Madison Community School Corporation. Her lawyers with the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom say the school district not only illegally compelled McCord to comply with a gender-transition policy that violated her core religious beliefs, but then also retaliated against her for her constitutionally protected speech about it.

"She as a public employee has a right to speak about matters that are important to her community when she's speaking as a private citizen," Vincent Wagner, an ADF lawyer, told National Review, adding that "public employees can't be forced to violate their core beliefs to keep their job. And that's what this policy required of teachers like Kathy."

McCord's lawsuit is the latest in a growing list of challenges to school-district policies that require public school staff to hide in-school transgender social transitions from parents. In several cases, parents have sued school districts alleging that they are keeping them in the dark about important mental-health issues involving their children, including evidence of possible gender dysphoria. In March, a mother in Maine sued her school district after a school counselor secretly gave her 13-year-old daughter a chest-binder to make her look more like a boy.

McCord's lawsuit approaches the issue from the perspective of a school-district employee who is forced, by policy, to hide potentially vital information from parents. In an interview with National Review, McCord said the district's directive "goes against everything that I believe as a Christian that parents should be involved in the most important parts of their kids' lives."

Leaders of the South Madison Community School Corporation did not respond to an email requesting comment on McCord's claims.

McCord, 60, has been an Indiana educator for over 37 years, serving as a school counselor for the last 25 years in South Madison schools, northeast of Indianapolis. She said she considered her colleagues at Pendleton Heights to be her "second family" and her support group. She served as the school's informal party planner, scheduling retirement parties and baby showers.

"I really got along with everybody I worked with," she said.

Kathy McCord is a veteran Indiana school counselor who aconsidered her colleagues her “second family.”

McCord is also a grandmother who attends church at a local nondenominational church. She said that several of her former colleagues attend church there as well.

While McCord has been a counselor for over two decades, she said the concept of students changing their names, pronouns, and gender identifications is a recent phenomenon in the conservative community, which voted over 60 percent for Donald Trump in the 2020.

"I would say, probably four or five years ago, I can't even think of a student that I had that had declared as transgender," she said. "It started just with a few, and then definitely in the last couple years it's very much more."

In earlier years, if a student requested to change his or her name and pronouns, counselors would notify the student's parents for consent, McCord said. But that changed at the beginning of the school year in 2021, when the district instituted a new policy or directive that no longer required parental consent – or notification – for the district to participate in a student's social transition, which McCord's lawsuit calls a "controversial psychotherapeutic intervention."

That September, staff attended training that taught them that a person becomes trans "when they say so" and that school staff have "no legal obligation to proactively inform parents."

Screenshot of a slide from the Pendleton teacher training which explains that a child should be considered trans from the moment they say they are trans.
Screenshot of a slide from the Pendleton teacher training which explains that teachers do not have a duty to inform parents of their child’s transition.

If a student wanted to change his or her name, pronouns, or gender identification, counselors were to fill out a form, a so-called "Gender Support Plan," that includes noting whether the student's parents or guardians were aware of or supportive of their "gender status."

"From the very first meeting, I spoke up and kind of played the devil's advocate," McCord said. "I had been pretty up front that I disagreed with that policy. I had even said, when parents find out about this they're going to be upset."

The new policy seems to have been intentionally kept on the downlow. There is no information about it on the school district's website, and unlike other district policies, there was no public disclosure about it to the Pendleton community, said Wagner, the ADF lawyer.

"It wasn't presented for a formal vote at a school board meeting where community members would have known what was going on," he said. "The community members, parents in the community, had no opportunity before this was implemented to voice their concerns about this idea that they're going to be transitioning kids without parental involvement."

School-district leaders have since said that the directive is required as part of the district's non-discrimination policy.

Despite her opposition to the policy, McCord abided by it. Her union representative told her that if she didn't, the district would treat it as insubordination. And while some teachers who opposed the gender-transition policy were provided accommodations and not forced to participate, McCord, as a school counselor, was provided no similar accommodation.

"There was never any conversation about, is there a way we can kind of work this out?" Wagner said. "There's all kinds of different things that could have been a discussion between her and the school, but they didn't open that avenue when she said, 'I have a problem with this.'"

As McCord predicted, some parents were upset when they learned that school officials were helping to socially transition children without the parental consent. The lawsuit notes an email McCord sent to the district's assistant superintendent in October 2021 after a parent learned that her child had been socially transitioned against her wishes. "Needless to say, she is not happy at all," McCord wrote to the superintendent, noting the mother's comment that her son is "supposed to be getting an education, not be part of a social experiment."

On November 30 of last year, Tony Kinnett, an Indiana-based columnist with the Daily Signal, left a message on McCord's voicemail. Kinnett, the co-founder of Chalkboard Review, is a former Indianapolis school administrator who made waves for exposing his school system's teachings about critical race theory. He now wanted to talk with McCord.

"At first I had no idea why he would be calling me," McCord said.

The next day, however, she learned from a friend about the email she'd sent to a group of teachers informing them, per policy, of a student's new name and pronouns, and noting that the child's parents were not supportive of the change. The email was circulating through the community, and all the names were redacted but McCord's.

She assumed that people reading the email would wrongly believe that she was supportive of the gender-transition policy. She called Kinnett back and agreed to speak with him.

"I felt like I had nothing to hide, and the parents needed to know the truth," she said.

Kinnett met with McCord at her home. He knew all about the policy, and had already been talking with parents, a former teacher, and at least one other school staffer who'd asked to remain anonymous. He had a copy of the blank gender-support plan. It appeared to be legitimate. McCord pulled up a copy of her district's plan on her computer to confirm it. She later emailed a blank version of the plan to Kinnett.

Kinnett published a column about the gender support plan on December 5. It did not directly quote McCord, but noted that she had spoken on the record, that she confirmed the existence of the district policy and the gender-support plan, that she believed it was school-board approved, and that if a student changing names or pronouns says that "his or her parents don't or wouldn't approve," that the "district is obliged to hide the information from parents."

"McCord said she and other counselors have access to such plans, but teachers, parents, and the public do not—which she strongly disagrees with," Kinnett wrote. "McCord insisted that she and a few other counselors despise this district policy, describing it as both dishonest and harmful."

After Kinnett's column was published, McCord received "many rude and threatening emails and voicemails," including being accused of being a predator and a groomer, the lawsuit says.

"It was just ironic that it came back on me, cause I was the one that had said all along I think this is wrong," McCord said.

Dozens of parents attended a school-board meeting on December 8, to confront district leaders about why they were hiding information about the policy and gender-transition plan.

After the column was published, and after the school board meeting, McCord was required to attend a series of meetings with her boss and other school and district leaders.

"My direct boss, my department chair, was definitely angry, and showed that in a meeting where he told me if I couldn't leave my values behind I couldn't be a good counselor, even though I'd been a counselor for 25 years," McCord said.

"To be honest, I don't know how you could be a good counselor if you don't have some values," she said.

In January, McCord was placed on leave, and district officials recommended that the school board cancel her contract. She was fired in March. The district accused her of "providing statements known to be false or made without truth or accuracy to Tony Kinnett who, with your knowledge and implied consent, published those inaccurate statements online."

"This resulted in severe, unwarranted reputational damage to the school corporation," the district wrote.

She was also accused of lying to the district leaders "regarding Mr. Kinnett's access to the district Gender Support Plan that was published online" by the Daily Signal.

Wagner said that McCord did not provide any false information to Kinnett, who did not directly quote McCord on anything. And he denied that McCord lied about providing Kinnett with a blank copy of the gender-support plan.

The reasons cited by the district are not the real reasons McCord was fired, he said.

"It really goes back to frustration with this article," he said.

The lawsuit accuses district leaders of retaliating against McCord for her protected speech, compelling her to engage in speech that she disagrees with, violating her religious rights, viewpoint discrimination, and violating the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

McCord is seeking to be reinstated to her job with backpay and damages, and to get an injunction prohibiting the district from requiring her to participate in the gender-support plan policy. The lawsuit also seeks to have the policy declared unconstitutional.

McCord said that she always received good performance reviews, and had never been disciplined before she was fired. When asked if she regretted speaking with Kinnett, she said she didn't.

"From the time this started in the fall of ’21, I really struggled with the whole policy," she said, adding that she often came home from work upset about it. "I'm a person of faith, and I prayed a lot about it. Honestly, I feel like that email coming out was God's way of saying, 'You need to deal with this, that it's time to stand up to this, that it's a wrong thing to do.'"

And while she said she's received "overwhelming" community support, she said she was disappointed by the way she was treated by school leaders.

"I considered most of those people my friends," she said. "They knew me personally. Some of them I had their children and Pendleton. They've known me for many, many years."

"It truly felt like a betrayal."

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School Counselor Fired for Objecting to Secretive Gender-Transition Policy Sues District

McCord was fired after publicly objecting to keeping parents in the dark about their child’s gender ... READ MORE


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