South Dakota Teacher Calvin Hillesland Investigated for Note to Transgender Students

On April 27 2022, an Imgur user shared screenshots of a tweet with a photo that purportedly depicted a letter from a South Dakota teacher to transgender students:

Fact Check

Claim: Photos show a letter from a South Dakota teacher to transgender students, distributed on April 25 2022 in the Watertown school district.

Description: The letter was distributed by South Dakota teacher Calvin Hillesland. In the letter, he expressed his unwillingness to use masculine names for transgender students. The authenticity of the letter was confirmed by the school district, local news outlets, and through its online presence.

Rating: True

Rating Explanation: The claim was confirmed as true by multiple sources, including the district and local news outlets. Despite the district’s disapproval, no specific disciplinary action for the teacher was mentioned.

In the April 25 2022 tweet, user Lee Bruns asserted:

South Dakota. Zero days without being a national embarrassment. Local teacher at the high school thought it was a good idea to hand this letter to several students.

A fellow Twitter user transcribed the depicted letter, which was signed “Mr. H.” It read:

I am hoping that by now you know me well enough from class to be able to trust me.

I respect you.

I support you.

I want what’s best for you.

If there were a rattlesnake under a pile of leaves on the path in front of you, I’m hoping you could easily imagine that I would run out ahead of you to warn you.

If your home were on fire, I’m hoping you could believe that I would try to help you get out.

That’s sort of what’s happening now.

When you asked me to call your friends by masculine names and I started trying to do that, I was wrong. It was a lie.

I didn’t warn you about the rattlesnake.

I didn’t try to rescue you from your burning home.

I hope you’ll forgive me- and I want to ‘turn things around’ now.

And like I said- I’m hoping you’ll trust me.

I realize that what you feel is saying something totally different.

But feelings are like a mirage. You don’t dare trust in them to guide you. They’re not an accurate reflection of reality.

So what is the reality? What is the truth? How can you know the truth for certain?

Well, biologically, every cell in your body is ♀️-female-feminine. That’s the bilogical [sic] truth. The same is true for your friends.

And it’s the truth that I want to encourage you to pursue. That’s what a good teacher does, right?

The DVD will explain everything more clearly than I can- the spiritual as well as the scientific facts. The candy is a symbol of the sweetness that I hope and pray you’ll discover.

Immer Alles Gute!

Dein Deutschlehrer- Mr. H.

Initially, the letter was simply attributed to “Mr. H.,” a teacher in South Dakota. On April 26 2022, local news outlets picked up the story.

On that date, the Dakota Free Press covered the viral tweet, identifying the teacher in a caption:

Photo of letter from German teacher Calvin Hillesland, to unnamed students at Watertown High School, April 2022. Posted by Lee Bruns, Twitter, 2022.04.25.

A separate April 26 2022 article in Watertown Public Opinion (“‘We were all flabbergasted’: Watertown students protest anti-transgender letter from teacher”) began:

Students and parents are urging Watertown School District officials to take action after a teacher gave a letter to four high-schoolers in what parents called a devastating “pre-meditated attack” on transgender students.

The letter, given to students [on April 25 2022] by a Watertown High School German teacher, sparked a small protest by students Tuesday morning [April 26 2022]. The teacher, Calvin Hillesland, tried to refute students’ gender identities and told the students in the letter that when they asked him to call their friends by masculine names, he felt it was “wrong” and “a lie.”

The outlet added that the Watertown School District notified parents of the issue by text, adding that it “does not support this sort of action” and that the district “respect[s] the rights of [their] students to be who they are”:

A statement sent to parents from the school district via text message confirmed the letter was sent to four students at the high school [on April 25 2022] and that a faculty member attempted to open a conversation about the students’ gender identity.

“The Watertown School District does not support this sort of action, and we respect the rights of our students to be who they are,” the district’s statement read. “We want to provide a safe learning environment for all students. We continue to work through the situation and ask for your support as we handle it.”

According to that article, at least one of the four students was withdrawn from the district after they received the letter. Ashley Bakke, a parent of one of the students, told the Watertown Public Opinion that the school’s principal didn’t seem to address her concerns:

“It was akin to talking with a politician … He was dancing around the issue and would rationalize it as generational and religious. I don’t feel like anything was addressed. It sounded like he was defending a friend.”

An April 27 2022 piece about the letter further confirmed its existence, reporting:

Jeff Danielsen, superintendent of the Watertown School District in Watertown, South Dakota, confirmed to Newsweek that “a faculty member handed a letter to four students in our high school.”


When asked by Newsweek if Hillesland would receive any disciplinary action for the letter in question, Danielsen said, “At this point, anything related to the staff member is considered [personal], and therefore I cannot speak to that.”

On April 25 2022, Twitter user Lee Bruns shared a purported letter distributed by a South Dakota teacher to “several students.” Local news outlets quickly picked up the story,  identifying the letter’s author as German teacher Calvin Hillesland. The district confirmed the letter was authentic, and added that it “does not support this sort of action.” Nevertheless, at least one of the targeted students withdrew from the district after receiving the letter.