Archdiocese of Omaha revises gender-identity policy

Update takes expulsion off the table, but requires students to adhere to their ‘God-given biological sex’ during school, activities
The new policy still doesn’t provide allowances for transgender students, but it stops short of expelling them.
Published: Dec. 9, 2022 at 2:45 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - In response to pushback on gender-identity policies announced over the summer, the Archdiocese of Omaha released a revised policy on Friday “rooted in the Catholic understanding of gender.”

The initial policy changes announced in August — and set to go into effect Jan. 1 — stated that students could be expelled and teachers fired if they requested to be identified as transgendered. Coming under fire from many in the community, the archdiocese said a few days later that it would put the policy on hold in order to use feedback to revise and solidify the policy with the intention of implementing it in the next school year.

The new policy for elementary and co-ed high schools in the archdiocese released Friday, which goes into effect in the upcoming 2023-24 school year, still doesn’t provide allowances for transgender students, but it stops short of expelling them — so long as they adhere to certain gender norms associated with their “God-given biological sex.”

Specifically, the updated policy states that students won’t be able to insist on using gender-neutral pronouns or those inconsistent with their biology; and that they will be required to follow that same philosophy for dress code, use of bathrooms and other facilities, as well as participation in school activities.

While student admission or retention won’t be denied based on gender identity under the new policy, those students who exhibit “gender dysphoria and/or incongruence” will be required to follow an “accompaniment plan” that partners their parents with school leaders and pastors to help counsel the students to “follow the teachings of the Catholic faith.”

The other option: transfer. According to the policy statement:

“The policy expresses our continuing determination for our schools to partner with the parents whose children face special challenges, to the extent that we are able to do so,” Archbishop George Lucas said in a letter along with the updated policy document.

According to the FAQ document that accompanied the release of the updated policy, the policies were revised because their initial scope was too broad — and because they were shared “publicly and prematurely” before educators had a chance to form plans to implement the policies.

Additionally, the FAQ states: “The policies reached into areas that were outside of the scope of gender identity, and asked school administrators to monitor areas of concern outside their responsibilities.”

The diocese said the policy no long references staff since they sign contracts and are required to follow handbooks and other diocese policies “that require employees’ commitment to follow the teachings of the Church.”

In forming the policy, the archdiocese says it reviewed more than 40 other such policies and related documents from other dioceses and organizations. The revision of the policy was led by the Archdiocese superintendent of schools and diocese leadership, but Archbishop Lucas gave it final approval.

The new policy would apply to students attending 52 Catholic elementary schools and 12 co-ed high schools. When the initial policy was released, however, at least three Omaha Catholic high schools — Creighton Prep, Marian, and Duchesne — said they would not follow it.

A spokesperson for Creighton Prep, which doesn’t fall under the governance of the Omaha Archdiocese, said Friday that they had only received the updated policy on Friday and had not yet had time to review the changes in detail, and noted that the school typically considers policy modifications during its annual policy review in the summer.

The spokesperson also noted that schools not within the archdiocese, such as Creighton Prep, would be able to determine their own policies.

Catholic Families for Love released a statement in response to the policy, saying that they remained deeply concerned about the policy and “still have many unanswered questions.”

“While we are grateful the archdiocese revised the policy from an earlier, farther-reaching version, we fear without further understanding of the proposed implementation, training and resources, the new policy has the potential to further stigmatize transgender and non-binary children, push them out of their school communities, and cause them harm.”

Excerpt from Catholic Families for Love statement

The organization, which defines itself as “a group of engaged parents and parishioners — numbering over 400 families in the Omaha metro — who love and support our schools,” formed in response to the first policy draft issued by the archdiocese in August.

According to the release, the group requested a meeting to share their concerns and asked to provide input as the policy revisions were made.

“The archdiocese declined our request and provided no information about the process of a sensitive, multi-faceted issue affecting a very vulnerable population,” the statement says.

The group says it would still like to engage Archbishop Lucas, as well as the archdiocese school district, and other Omaha Catholic leaders in “inclusive, authentic dialogue” about gender issues and policies.

“We want Catholic spaces to be safe spaces for all children,” Kaela Volkmer, a spokeswoman for the group, said in the release. “We hope that the archdiocese, parish, and school leaders would apply the Catholic social teachings of respect, compassion, and sensitivity to our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.”

Read the archbishop’s letter