Why Michigan’s Unusual Educational Bureaucracy Matters in the Flap on LGBT Training Videos

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon has spoken out against training videos suggesting, among other things, that educators could inform parents of a transgender child’s suicidal thoughts without disclosing that the child is transgender.

She called for the resignation of Michael Rice, Michigan’s superintendent of public instruction and head of the state Department of Education, and said Governor Gretchen Whitmer “owes parents an answer.”

Rice refused to resign. His job is likely secure, thanks in part to an unusual feature of the Michigan government: the head of the Department of Education is not appointed by the governor, but hired by the Michigan Board of Education, an elected body. statewide whose eight-year terms are meant to insulate them from the politics of the day.

That board has a 5-2 Democratic majority and one vacancy. The two Republican members, Tom McMillin and Nikki Snyder, called on Rice to step down. But Vice President Pamela Pugh, a Democrat running for office this year, said she “absolutely” supports Rice.

She called Dixon’s complaints, which were echoed by Republicans in the state Senate, “the same politicization of our children that we’ve seen in recent years.”

She also supports “the spirit of what was being broadcast in this training, and what was being broadcast in this training was, ‘What are the things that educators can do to ensure that all children receive support in school?’ “

The training covered “the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ students, state and federal laws, and research-based best practices, as well as discussions of the nuanced situations faced by districts,” the Department of Education said in a statement. communicated.

Dixon told a news conference on Tuesday that the videos were proof that “our schools have gone astray.” Somewhere along the way, radical political activists decided that our schools were laboratories for their social experiments, our children are their lab rats.

It’s “not about LGBTQ issues,” she insisted. “This is about protecting children and protecting the rights of parents and getting our schools back to the basics of teaching children reading, writing and math.”

But there’s another quirk of Michigan state government that matters here: The state’s Department of Education may have significant administrative responsibilities, but it has limited ability to set policy.

The videos, which were first posted last week by conservative activist Christopher Rufo, are part of the department’s professional development offerings.

They are also optional.

“One of the ironies of this whole video thing is that it’s just advice,” said Joshua Cowen, an educational policy professor at Michigan State University who has worked extensively with the State Department of Education. “MDE has hundreds, if not thousands, of these videos floating around the Internet.”

There are state guidelines on what situations teachers are required to report and who they should report to, he said, “but it’s not necessarily written by the MDE.”

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