Fact Check

Nebraska School Bans Genders in Favor of 'Purple Penguins'

Did a Nebraska school district mandate that gendered references be retired in favor of neutral expressions like 'purple penguins?'

Published Oct 9, 2014

Claim:   A school district in Lincoln, Nebraska has banned the use of gender pronouns and ordered teachers to use neutral terms such as "purple penguins" instead.


TRUE: Lincoln Public Schools have provided educators with materials to help them better understand gender identity issues.
FALSE: The Lincoln school district has banned all reference to gender in favor of calling students "purple penguins."

Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, October 2014]

A Nebraska school district has instructed its teachers to stop referring to students by "gendered expressions" such as "boys and girls," and use "gender inclusive" ones such as "purple penguins" instead.

"Don't use phrases such as 'boys and girls,' 'you guys,' 'ladies and gentlemen,' and similarly gendered expressions to get kids' attention," instructs a training document given to middle-school teachers at Lincoln Public Schools.

I just read an article saying that Nebraska will now start requiring that all students be called "Purple Penguins" instead of boys and girls. Is this true? It was on Foxnews.com, so I'm skeptical.


Origins:   On 8 October 2014, the National Review

published an article concerning gender identity and inclusiveness training at Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) in Lincoln, Nebraska. According to that article, educators within the school district had been ordered to refrain from using specifically gendered terms when speaking or referring to students in favor of gender neutral terms such as "purple penguins."

The article made specific reference to materials provided by Gender Spectrum, an organization whose website states a goal of fostering "gender sensitive and inclusive environment for all children and teens." National Review cited paraphrased materials purportedly provided to educators that painted a picture of a full-scale ban on genders in the Lincoln school district:

"Don't use phrases such as 'boys and girls,' 'you guys,' 'ladies and gentlemen,' and similarly gendered expressions to get kids' attention," instructs a training document given to middle-school teachers at the Lincoln Public Schools.

"Create classroom names and then ask all of the 'purple penguins' to meet on the rug," it advises.

The document also warns against asking students to "line up as boys or girls," and suggests asking them to line up by whether they prefer "skateboards or bikes/milk or juice/dogs or cats/summer or winter/talking or listening."

"Always ask yourself ... 'Will this configuration create a gendered space?'" the document says."


Word of Lincoln Public Schools' gender inclusivity training quickly spread across blogs and on Twitter, morphing into a cautionary tale of political correctness run rampant:

Teachers are encouraged to hang signs on their classroom doors insisting that "all genders" are welcome while discontinuing the time-tested practice of lining boys and girls up separately before leaving class.

"Instead," the guidelines dictate, "use things like 'odd and even birth date ...'

Educators should prominently display photographs of gender-benders in the classroom, the new policy insists, and give students at least four choices when it is imperative that gender be determined.


Much of the airtime given to the matter of gender sensitivity training in Lincoln framed the materials supplied as mandates or rules imposed on all schools within the district. However, as Brenda Leggiardo, LPS coordinator of social workers and counselors clarified to the Lincoln Journal Star after the issue gained widespread attention, the materials were provided as guidelines for educators to better understand gender identity issues and were not intended to impose rules mandating how those issues should be addressed:

The handouts, provided by a staff member on a district equity team, were meant only for teachers, not for students or parents, she said.

And they were not meant as rules staff had to follow, but as suggestions for how teachers can make students feel comfortable. It also stresses the impact words can have on others, Leggiardo said.

"If there's a staff member that's uninformed and unsupportive, that can be pretty scary for a family maybe struggling to understand transgender issues themselves," she said.


LPS Superintendent Steve Joel also held a press conference to assert that the district had made no changes to their policies and imposed no mandates; the material in question consisted only of suggestions for "how teachers could reach all students in their classroom":

Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel pushed back against what he said was misinformed reaction to the district's gender identity training by national commentators and news outlets.

"It's indeed regrettable that for the last week and a half we've had to dedicate as much staff time and resources to address an issue that is not founded in fact," he said at a news conference.

"Never once has anyone inside our system mandated that a teacher take (the words) 'boys' and 'girls' or 'ladies' and 'gentlemen' out of their interactions with children or interaction with adults. There's no policy, there's no procedure, there's no changes being made to bathrooms in schools."

Fox News and other national outlets picked up on local news reports about the district's gender identity training, specifically handouts used with teachers at Irving Middle School that included one from the nonprofit organization Gender Spectrum entitled "12 easy steps to gender inclusiveness."

Joel said the handouts were suggestions and strategies, not mandates, about how teachers could reach all students in their classrooms. The training occurred at the request of an Irving teacher looking for guidance dealing with students.

"This was about adults, professional educators, who care deeply about trying to reach and establish relationships with children," Joel said. "They are looking for strategies about how to be more effective in the classroom."

During administrative leadership days prior to the beginning of the school year, LPS officials shared several recent news stories about transgender persons to help administrators better understand the issues that face some students, so they feel comfortable and welcome at school.


Last updated:   13 October 2014


    Agee, B. Christopher.

"This Liberal School Board Just Took Political Correctness to Literally Unbelievable Extremes."

    National Review.   8 October 2014.

    Reist, Margaret.   "LPS Staff's Transgender Training Concerns Parents."

    Lincoln Journal Star.   1 October 2014.

    Reist, Margaret.

  "Superintendent Reacts to National Attention Directed at District's Gender Identity Training."
    Lincoln Journal Star.   10 October 2014.

    Timpf, Katherine.

"School Told to Call Kids 'Purple Penguins' Because 'Boys and Girls' Is Not Inclusive ..."

    National Review.   8 October 2014.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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