Last Monday, 6th graders from Culver Middle School set off for camp, but came home the same day. The school district opted to bring students home from Camp Tamarack after some of them reported feeling uncomfortable with the sexual identity of certain counselors, prompting the camp to defend the high school-aged students.
Superintendent Stefanie Garber said the students arrived at around 10:30 a.m. at the camp near Suttle Lake.
“More than one of our boys cabins expressed that they were uncomfortable to our teacher,” she said. “They had learned that their counselor, who was physically female, identified as non-binary and they just kept saying, ‘How come we have to have a girl? I’m uncomfortable.’”
She students said they didn’t want to undress or sleep in front of these counselors.
Garber was unable to get a hold of the camp at that time and made the decision to bring the kids back home.
“We have to listen to our children, and these are 11- and 13-year-olds,” she said. “So we have to let families know what’s going on. At the same time, we 100% supported the thought of nonbinary students being at that camp. So it was just a mix, and there wasn’t a good straight solution for a path.”
Watch our full interview with Garber in the player below.
Parents from Bend-La Pine schools, specifically Miller Elementary, had also expressed concern via email and social media in the weeks prior regarding transgender counselors at the camp and alleged discussions about the surgical transition process.
The camp’s executive director Charlie Anderson shared a statement Tuesday in response to the Culver School District’s decision:
Charlie Anderson statement:
“At Camp Tamarack, it is our ongoing mission to ensure that Outdoor School is a safe place to work, volunteer and send children, regardless of someone’s race, religion, sex, color, disability sexual orientation or gender identity. We follow the rules laid forth by the Oregon Department of Education. Whether it is making our site more accessible, reaching out to Central Oregonians who don’t have access to nature and Outdoor School in general, or creating a more exclusive environment, we are always striving to grow our community. Our hearts are heavy for the kids from Culver who did not get to have a camp experience this week. We also feel deeply for the high school students (also kids) who were singled out because of their identities. We at Camp Tamarack are here to serve the students of Central Oregon and believe in the inspirational power of the outdoors to break down barriers, foster connections, and create spaces where we can learn from each other and grow as individuals and a community.”
He also clarified in an email that there are private changing areas in every cabin, and campers are made aware of this.
Bend-La Pine Schools Superintendent Steven Cook also released a statement in response to the concerned parents in his district.
Dr. Steven Cook statement:
“Camp Tamarack is a unique learning outdoor school opportunity for students, which is why it has been long supported by Central Oregonians, as it provides kids with learning experiences not realized otherwise. Bend-La Pine Schools’ families can opt out of having their student attend Camp Tamarack; this is an optional co-curricular activity. An individual’s gender identity is protected under state and federal guidance and is not information we share with others. This follows the law and our policies and – more than that — it’s the right thing to do. We want our families and students to know that we stand in support of the rights of LGBTQ+ students. Our schools and our communities should be welcoming places for all students and Bend-La Pine Schools is committed to doing our part to help all students feel safe, supported and that they belong.”
As for Culver, Garber says the district is in strong support of LGBTQ+ students, including the many who attend school in Culver.
“We vehemently stand for equal rights,” she said.
She said she made a choice she hoped would be best for everyone, and that many parents have been grateful.
“From the beginning, it felt like a no-win situation. No matter what decision was made, there were going to be unhappy people,” she said. “And so the district felt like taking all of the children out of it would remove some of the factors. And I can understand how the public may some of the public may not see it that way.”
Garber says they will continue to have a relationship with Camp Tamarack, and The Culver School District and Camp Tamarack leaders met Tuesday to discuss what the future will look like. they say they will release a joint statement at some point Tuesday evening.