State drops ‘birth gender’ wording from application

It was just two words in an application — but they left Erin Swenson confused and concerned.

Swenson has two children in the Boise School District. When they applied for advanced opportunities programs, they were asked to list their birth gender.

Swenson contacted the State Department of Education last week to ask about the wording, starting an email thread she shared with Idaho Education News on Tuesday.

Jeff Church
Jeff Church, State Department of Education spokesman

By midday Tuesday, the department had contacted Swenson and Idaho Education News, and said the wording had been changed from “birth gender” to “gender.” The birth gender wording was an “inadvertent typo,” department spokesman Jeff Church said.

Why does the state ask for this information — by any terminology?

It’s one step in confirming an applicant’s identity. Gender is one reference point used to doublecheck a student’s identity within the Idaho System for Educational Excellence, the state’s longitudinal student data system.

The decision to edit the reference to “birth gender” had nothing to do with the transgender student guidelines issued May 13 by the Obama administration, Church said. Church’s boss, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra, has called the administration’s “guidance” an “extreme top-down approach” that exploited transgender students.

In a letter explaining the guidelines, the Department of Justice uses a term that mirrors “birth gender:” “sex assigned at birth.” But the letter also notes that a student’s gender identity may be different than the sex assigned at birth.

The letter also discusses student privacy concerns.

“Nonconsensual disclosure of personally identifiable information, such as a student’s birth name or sex assigned at birth, could be harmful to or invade the privacy of transgender students and may also violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. A school may maintain records with this information, but such records should be kept confidential.”

The outcome left Swenson with mixed feelings. She said she was glad the wording had been addressed — but still was worried about student privacy.

“I wonder if any student has already had their rights violated,” she said in an email.