RALEIGH — Claims that North Carolina’s student data and grading system is allowing students to change their gender and name without parental permission are unfounded, according to information from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
The data system is called PowerSchool, which is used statewide by the public and charter schools in the state for storing and managing student data. Parents also have access to their child’s grading, class enrollment list, test and attendance records in PowerSchool.
The update to PowerSchool does not erase student sex information in the system as some are now claiming, according to information from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). Instead, the system update allows for local decision-makers such as principals of individual schools to choose who can view that information.
According to NCDPI, PowerSchool released a new management security role that gives public school units the ability to manage which users have “view access” to student, staff, and parent fields that may need to remain confidential to some users. Those fields are typically hidden from users not assigned to the management role; however, a public school unit’s leadership has the ability to grant “view access” to any user as needed.
“This change in PowerSchool was made to be consistent with court rulings and federal guidance,” Blair Rhoades, Communications Director for NCDPI, said in an email to North State Journal. “The field was made aware in emails sent on January 23rd, which was during the maintenance window that typically happens at night and over the weekend, and through another email sent again on the 26th.”
The federal guidance and court rulings referred to by Rhoades is the Biden administration’s announcement of enforcement changes to certain Title IX amendments, which included “Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Light of Bostock v. Clayton County.”
As reported by North State Journal in June of 2021, President Joe Biden instructed his Department of Education to revive the Obama-era policy regarding Title IX which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual or gender identity. Biden reversed the Trump administration’s February 2017 decision to rescind the Obama Title IX guidance.
Rhoades also noted the claim that PowerSchool is allowing children to “change genders” without parental consent is untrue.
The legal name fields also aren’t something that can be changed without parental consent. PowerSchool has fields that include legal name and preferred name for students, the latter of which was defunct for several years but was restored in a system update.
“PowerSchool used to have a field called ‘nickname’ for each student to list their preferred name like ‘Jon’ instead of ‘Johnathan’ but this functionality was removed by PowerSchool and the option hasn’t been available to schools for nearly two years,”state Superintendent Catherine Truitt said in a statement to North State Journal.
“With this update to the system, we restored a previous feature available to schools statewide in allowing for both the student’s legal name and preferred name to be seen,” said Truitt. “So, a student who goes by their middle name, perhaps has a double name, or goes by a shortened version of their full name can have their nickname included in documents like the teacher’s roster or in online settings like Google Meet.”
LGBT activists in North Carolina claimed the restoration of the preferred name field as “an important victory for transgender and gender-nonconforming students,” according to a March 2021 press release by Equality North Carolina.
Equality North Carolina also claimed the update to PowerSchool “creates a solution to transgender and gender-nonconforming students who may go by a name other than what is listed on their legal documentation.”
In short, the updates now give schools the authority to make these decisions locally instead of NCDPI deciding who has access to this information, such as who should and should not have access to the field for sex of a student and whether nor not a nickname or preferred name is added. Neither change cuts parents out of the loop.
Parents have the ability to edit a student’s preferred name, as can students. The sex of a student cannot be edited by the student or parents. The sex of the child is pulled from the birth certificate at the time of enrollment. Parents can view the sex of the student on the child’s transcript.
PowerSchool was previously a Pearson product up until June of 2015 when Vista Equity Partners acquired the system.