HSE Schools: A Little Word Caused a Big Discussion


The Hamilton Southeastern Schools school board members discussed the student hand book in their May 27th meeting. While there were a number of topics discussed, there was one that dominated a majority of the discussion and caused the most consternation. This was the simple word “they”.

It seemed that there were members of the board that were unfamiliar with how the word ‘they’ has been used in more modern times – being from about the Fourteenth Century to today. Since that time, the word they was deemed acceptable to use in a singular form. For instance, instead of referring to either he or she, you could refer to they. For example:

Someone left their bicycle in my yard. They might want to come get it.

Clearly this is targeting an individual; however, you don’t know if it is “he” or “she”. In reality, in this context it doesn’t matter. The meaning that is being communicated is clearer and the sentence reads better than trying to say “He/She”.

It was suggested that the school’s handbooks be changed to remove the references to he or she and replace them with they. This is where the pushback happened. While one board member indicated that ‘he’ used to be used to refer to both he and she, that is no longer really the acceptable standard.

Several board members didn’t want the change made to “they” but rather wanted it left as “he/she/they” so as to cover any gender including gender identity


There was a bit of whatifisms happening around the discussion of this change. It was the whatifisms that seemed to be at the core of some of the push back on changing to “they”.

The school board should consider the impacts of their decisions, but not to the extent of making these complicated now for things that are likely not going to actually happen. For example, changing the use of he and she to they might lead to other documents being updated.

Would the removal of the gender specific terms from the handbook lead to the removal of teaching Spanish due to its use of masculine terms when referring to mixed gender groups? Would the older literature in the school libraries be removed because they have references to he and she?

While these questions were posed by a school board meeting, they are whatifisms. They are unrealistic to even consider at this time because they are preposterous for most to consider. Of course, at some point this issue could be raised. If so, for changes like these to happen, the school board would likely be involved. In the mean time, the moon could come crashing down into the Earth. As such, that might be a better focus in the near term.

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