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District presents proposed sexual orientation curriculum to parents

Submitted by on 1, February 6, 2009 – 8:00 am9 Comments

School district officials presented a proposed elementary school curriculum to address sexual orientation and gender identity to two open forums for parents Wednesday and Thursday.

Assistant Superintendent Debbie Wong told a group of parents at Washington School for Thursday’s presentation that the curriculum is being considered to prevent anti-gay violence and to make students from families outside what is considered mainstream – including gay families, single parent families and others – feel safe and accepted at school.

“We’re not proposing anything. We’re not advocating anything. We’re trying to protect the students in our schools,” Wong said.

Parents would receive notification when the lessons are to be taught, but would not be able to opt out of them, district officials said.

Franklin School Principal Gail Rossiter, who is on the 20-person team working on the curriculum, said that teachers would be required to offer one lesson on “inclusion and family diversity” each year, and that they could add supplemental lessons on family diversity and bullying and violence prevention at their discretion. She also offered a list of books that would be available at the schools.

One of the books included in the “essential lessons” list, “And Tango Makes Three,” is the true story of two male penguins at a New York City zoo who are raising a baby penguin together, she said.

“What the children take away from it is it’s a cute story about penguins,” Rossiter said.

Haight School first grade teacher Heidi Huhn offered an example of one lesson, using a book that shows students different kinds of families. The lesson included a vocabulary list with the words members, partner, several, raises, female, male. Students also made posters showing their family trees, which were displayed at the back of the room.

“Adults are very confused. They think we have to have a conversation about sex to have a conversation about sexual orientation. And it’s not like that,” Huhn said.

Some parents who attended the forum said they feel the district is teaching lessons about values that it’s their job to offer, and they said the district should focus on teaching kids more general lessons about their conduct. They want the district to focus its efforts on equipping teachers to deal with anti-gay slurs and bullying.

“I think that you’re overstepping your boundaries,” said Maunel Poblete, a parent.

Still, several parents spoke in support of the plan.

“For me, this is really straightforward. It’s about teaching respect,” Mike Schmitz said.

At one point, some of the parents began to debate the merits of the proposed curriculum.

“Why would you want to opt out of teaching your child about tolerance and respect?” parent Annie Crowder asked opponents of the plan as she grew visibly frustrated with their comments.

“Because we teach it in a different way,” another parent, Jim Pixton, responded.

The curriculum goes to the Board of Education for a public hearing on February 24. The board is slated to vote on in on March 10. The lessons are to be part of a broader district curriculum on violence prevention and life skills and would be taught in the first nine weeks of school.

If it is approved, Wong said the district will work on purchasing instructional materials, training teachers and talking to parents about what they plan to teach. The district has the materials available for viewing in its offices, at 2200 Central Avenue, Room 202E, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through February 24.

The meeting packet is also available on the school district’s website.


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