Central Indiana parents share their thoughts about a new law that requires schools to notify them when a student requests a different name or pronouns.
Parents annoyed as pronouns law requires Indiana schools to report all nickname requestsCaroline BeckRachel Fradette
Published: 11:14 a.m. ET Aug. 10, 2023 Updated: 12:16 p.m. ET Aug. 10, 2023
A new Indiana law that requires parents to be notified of students' name changes, including nicknames, has caused confusion and annoyance among some parents, while others are angry about the risk it places on transgender students.
HB 1608, which the legislature passed earlier this year, requires teachers and school administrators to write to parents if their child requests a change of their name, title or pronoun. The notification must happen within five days of receiving the student request.
The law went through many changes in the legislature, including specifically targeting transgender students, but was eventually changed to affect any student who wishes to be addressed by a name other than the one given when their parent or guardian registered them for school.
Parents who spoke with IndyStar about this new reporting requirement were either confused or annoyed that schools had to spend time notifying them about something they already knew.
Other parents were frightened about what this may mean for transgender students.
'A stunning waste of time'
From the moment Victoria Matsumura was pregnant with her little girl, she was always known as Rosie.
So every year, Rosie, now 8 years old, would return to school and ask teachers to call her that rather than her legal name, Rosemarie.
This year, Rosie’s mom had to log into Hamilton Southeastern’s school management system, Skyward, and provide her daughter’s preferred name on a new form. If she hadn't, a notification would have been sent home to inform her that Rosie asked to be called by a different name.
This “silly” process was a waste of time and just adds another item to the list of things for teachers to worry about, Matsumura said. Rosie’s teacher asked her to make the change because otherwise she wouldn’t be able to call her by her nickname.
“She said, 'Even kids I've known for years I have to do this for,'” Matsumura said.
Similarly, Simon Hammons got an email one afternoon from son Benjamin's school in the Avon Community School Corporation. His child had asked to be called “Ben,” a nickname he has always been known by.
“It’s a stunning waste of time and resources for most parents, and it’s coupled with a group of policies that are openly hostile to transgender students and almost seems like the state wants them punished for being who they are,” Hammons said.
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Joni Heredia had to visit North Central High School, in the Washington Township school district, in the middle of the day to sign a piece of paper proving she knew about her 10th grader's name request.
Heredia’s child is transgender and both had already told the school about their request to use their preferred name instead of their legal name at the beginning of this school year, but the school told Heredia they had to notify her anyway because of the new law.
“My concern is for the other kids and how this could affect them and whether they’re going to be safe in their homes or outside of their homes,” Heredia told IndyStar.
LGBTQ+ advocates have said a record number of bills were filed during the 2023 legislative session that they viewed as harmful to the LGBTQ community and specifically transgender youth.
Legal confusion surrounds HB 1608
Attorney Jessica Heiser has been providing training for school districts on how to implement HB 1608 and said that a lot of the districts she is working with are worried about breaking the law. She worked on the general counsel teams for most of the major school districts in Marion and Hamilton counties before moving to consulting work.
“School administrators and educators want clear direction from the legislature,” Heiser said. “They want to know what the rules are, what the definitions are and how to follow them, but this law is the worst kind of law for an educator, because it's so vague and so undefined that it just increases the fear factor.”
Heiser believes part of the reason the law is so vague when it comes to defining what counts as a name change was to avoid any possible violation of the 14th Amendment or Title IX.
“Make it vague enough that it’s not facially discriminatory, but in doing so (they) made it so vague nobody knows how to implement it,” Heiser said.
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The ACLU of Indiana filed an appeal Tuesday of a federal judge’s decision to deny the request for a temporary halt to enforcing the law. The lawsuit centers on the part of the law concerning the instruction of human sexuality in pre-K through third grade.
Due to the vagueness of the law, Heiser said she has been advising most districts to notify parents of any slight name, title or pronoun change, including the use of initials instead of a full name or the shortening of a name.
The law appears to have no built-in enforcement mechanism, Heiser said, but there is a concern that teachers' licenses could be at risk under the part of Indiana law that says teachers can lose their license for “immorality, misconduct in office, incompetency or willful neglect of duty.”
A spokesperson for state Rep. Michelle Davis, R-Whiteland, who authored HB 1608, said she would not be providing further comment on the law due to the pending litigation.
Hamilton and Marion County school districts' proceduresIndyStar reached out to a number of Central Indiana school districts to see how they are handling the notification process.
In Carmel Clay Schools, parents were notified before the start of school to update their students' information if needed. Now any requests for a change go through the school’s social workers and administration and an email is sent to families regarding the change.
“Then, pending the nature of the request and if needed, the student and family may work with the school social worker to provide additional gender support,” a spokesperson for Carmel Clay schools said.
In the Hamilton Southeastern School district, an automated email will be sent to parents if a student requests a change. It will explain why they are having to send the notification and how families can update their student’s preferences in Skyward.
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“We are trying to ease the burden this type of communication would place on our school counselors, teachers and admin,” a district spokesperson said.
Noblesville Schools’ counseling team will handle notifying parents and providing support and resources for students and families, Marnie Cooke, the district’s spokeswoman, said in an email.
In Marion County, Indianapolis Public Schools did not tell IndyStar what their protocol is for notification. Other Marion County districts said they already had protocols in place or were in the process of creating new ones due to the law.
Zionsville Community Schools in Boone County said administrators are going over proper protocols with their teachers before school starts Aug. 14 and would provide it to IndyStar next week.