Brownsburg divided over fate of teacher, transgender policies in schools

Hours after John Kluge’s employment with Brownsburg schools had officially ended, people were still waiting to speak on his behalf – and on behalf of the transgender students who said they’ve felt disrespected by him.

Kluge had been Brownsburg High School’s orchestra teacher until two weeks ago when school officials say they accepted his resignation. The district’s school board officially approved the resignation at its meeting Monday night.

Kluge said he had been forced to resign by the school district’s administration and its new transgender student guidelines that run counter to his religious beliefs.

“I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that’s a dangerous lifestyle,” Kluge said in an interview with IndyStar. “I’m fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing.”

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Starting this past year, the district allowed transgender students to change their name and gender in its online record system with the approval of a parent and medical professional. Once that change was made, teachers were directed to call students by that name.

Kluge refused to do so. He said that calling transgender students by their chosen names to reflect a gender identity that doesn’t match their born sex equates to support of something he views as “dangerous” and violates his First Amendment rights. As a compromise, he called all students exclusively by their last names during the past school year.

Kluge said the district told him he would not be able to continue using last names in the upcoming school year, though. He would have to call them by their chosen first name, he said he was told, or be terminated immediately. Kluge said he wanted to at least finish the school year, so he wrote a resignation letter that would take effect at the end of the school year.

Kluge said he later asked to rescind the letter, but that request was not honored.

Two minutes into Monday night’s meeting, the school board had voted to accept Kluge’s resignation.

What followed over the next two hours was an impassioned back-and-forth between those who support the district’s transgender policies and many who don’t.

Several transgender students that attend Brownsburg thanked the board for its supportive policies and decision to accept Kluge’s resignation. Several that were in Kluge’s orchestra class said they felt disrespected and even harassed by his refusal to use their chosen names.

“We all knew why he was doing it,”  Aidyn Sucec, a sophomore, said of Kluge’s decision to only use last names.

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More than 40 people signed up to speak in front of a packed room, so full that the walls were lined with people who couldn’t get a seat. More than 200 people were present and many of those were parents, students and community members in support of Kluge.

When Kluge took his turn at the podium, the school board maintained its two-minute time limit per person over the objections of many in the crowd who yelled out, “let him speak.”

The evening seemed to push the two sides of the issue, both well-represented at the meeting, further apart. Those with deeply held religious convictions preached, while others called for separation of church and state. When several transgender students took their turn at the podium, other students in the crowd scoffed at the chosen names they provided and said their “real” names they had gone by previously.

Jeff Gracie called for the school board members to lose their seats over the accommodations the district is making for transgender students.

“You work for us,” he said.

While the board has already taken action on Kluge’s employment, this is likely not the end of this issue for Brownsburg schools. Many in the crowd called for a reversal of its guidelines, especially one that allows transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

Many of the parents at Monday night’s meeting said they were unaware that this accommodation was in place for transgender students and are uncomfortable with its implications for their children. Landon Chapman said he’s not comfortable with students who were born male being able to use the same female restroom as his daughter.

“Why is it that parents weren’t notified?” he asked the board.

He called for a public vote on the guidelines.

After nearly two hours of public comment, the board thanked the crowd and moved on with the rest of its agenda. Board members and the superintendent declined to comment further.