Tudor Dixon calls for resignation of Michigan superintendent over LGBTQ workshop

Lansing — Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon on Tuesday called for the resignation of Michael Rice, Michigan's superintendent of public instruction, contending a state training session on working with LGBTQ students promoted hiding information from parents.

But a spokesman for Rice fired back, saying the longtime educator remained committed to protecting the well-being of Michigan students.

Dixon, who's challenging Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this fall, made her request during a press conference outside the offices of the Michigan Department of Education in downtown Lansing.

The GOP candidate said Michigan's schools had "lost their way." Dixon said while there are "many good teachers that just want to help kids learn," there are also "many political activists" that want to use children as props in what she described as an assault on "parents' rights and family values."

On Rice, Dixon criticized footage, recently obtained and released by activist Christopher Rufo, from a Department of Education training webinar, entitled, "Laying the Foundation: Understanding the Identities and Experiences of LGBTQ+ Students in Michigan."

In the video, a trainer said educators could talk to parents about a student having suicidal thoughts "without outing them" to parents. The student should "guide that process," the trainer added.

"He’s said that he’s going to leave these videos telling teachers to hide information from parents," Dixon said of Rice. "If he does not think parents deserve to know what is happening with their child in our public schools we are funding, taxpayer funded schools, … then he does not deserve a place at the table."

In response, Michigan Department of Education spokesman Martin Ackley said Rice has no plans on stepping down.

"Dr. Rice stays committed to working with parents and educators across the state to protect the health, well-being and education of all Michigan students," Ackley said.

In Michigan, the statewide elected State Board of Education oversees the state superintendent of public instruction and the Michigan Department of Educaton, not the governor.

In May 2019, State Board of Education's Democratic majority selected Rice, a former local superintendent in Kalamazoo, to run the department.

The Michigan Senate on Tuesday voted 22-13 along party lines on a resolution condemning the training videos and reaffirming “the fundamental right of parents to direct the education of their children.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, introduced the resolution, arguing the training was “absolutely an indictment of bureaucracy and bureaucrats who think they know more than parents do and think they have more rights than parents do.”

“It shouldn’t require a resolution or a vote,” Shirkey said. “But here we are in 2022 having to reaffirm that it is parents, not bureaucrats, who should ultimately make educational and health decisions for their children.”

Several Democrats pushed back on the resolution, arguing it was an affront to Michigan teachers and detrimental to Michigan students struggling with questions of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Does anyone in here think that teachers drive to work each morning planning how they can corner Juwan or Jessica that day and talk to them about sex or gender theory?” said Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, a former teacher. “No, teachers drive to work each day thinking about whether their day’s lessons are good enough so that kids learn.”

Maeve Coyle, spokeswoman for Whitmer's campaign, highlighted the incumbent governor naming 13 individuals to the Michigan Parents' Council on Monday.

"She knows that parents are crucial and should be involved in decisions about their child’s education, which is why she created the Michigan Parents Council and worked with Republicans to make historic investments in education, increase mental health resources for students, address the teacher shortage and provide free tutoring," Coyle said.

Whitmer's chief operating officer Tricia Foster also sent a letter Friday to Rice, encouraging him to "continue bringing parents' perspectives into the work you do" and focus on reading, writing and math. 

"Knowing we all seek those common goals, the recent teacher training video that went outside of that scope was concerning," Foster said. "We urge you to review your trainings to ensure they comply with all applicable regulations, maintain department guidelines and are reflective of best practices."

But during her press conference, Dixon said the letter from a staffer wasn't enough. Dixon, a political commentator and businesswoman from Norton Shores, said Whitmer herself should address the training.

Dixon alleged Tuesday that "radical political activists" had decided Michigan schools are "laboratories for their social experiments" and "our children are their lab rats." She said she would ban school personnel from talking to young children about "sex and gender behind their parents' backs."

"Let me very clear about something. This is not about LGBTQ issues," Dixon added. "This is about protecting children and protecting parents' rights and getting our schools back to the basics of teaching kids how to read, write and do math."

More than a dozen people stood behind Dixon at her press conference Tuesday. Some of them held signs that read, "Listen to parents not union bosses" and "Protect kids not PEDS!," an apparent reference to pedophiles.