Gay pride videos played in a Glendale third grade classroom have fueled a debate about how and when lessons about gender identity should be addressed in public schools.
At recent meetings of the Glendale Unified School District Board of Trustees, some parents and activists have argued for the right to parental control over education, especially when it comes to topics they consider sensitive.
Here’s what California law and education policy says about these issues.
What does California require for LGBTQ education?
The California Department of Education Mandatory Learning Objectives say course materials must include the “role and contributions” of, among others, “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.”
How that’s accomplished is left to local school systems and teachers, said department spokeswoman Maria Clayton. The state-approved framework notes that teachers must use “age-appropriate” materials to discuss and teach the “diversity of humanity.”
Recommended resources include materials from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
At what age are California students expected to learn about issues related to gender expression and gender identity?
Much of this is left to local discretion. But state guidelines note that sophomores, studying the histories of “a diverse set of families,” including those “with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender parents and their children … may both locate themselves and their own family in history and learn about the historical lives and struggles of their peers.
How much leeway do parents have to withdraw their children from gender identity lessons?
Parents or guardians can opt out of classes on comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education, but not classes that reference sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
For example, parents could not remove their children from a social studies lesson about the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
If a parent decides to keep the child out of school when such a lesson is taught, it will likely be recorded as an unexcused absence.
Did Glendale’s third-grade teacher and school follow state guidelines?
No evidence has emerged that Glendale teacher Tammy Tiber violated local or state guidelines. A district program fully endorsed three short videos that Tiber asked questions about. The adviser had reservations about a fourth video but did not ban Tiber from showing it.
In a statement, Glendale Superintendent. Vivian Ekchian noted that “we are very intentional” in selecting a program aligned with state requirements, with the goal of providing “an inclusive and respectful representation of the rich diversity of our community.”
How does the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Learning for Justice materials fit into this debate?
Tiber, on behalf of the school system, was experimenting with widely used materials created by the Southern Poverty Law Center. These materials were developed decades ago by the nonprofit group to fight racism and white supremacy.
Learning for Justice materials used at Glendale do not include gay pride videos, but all of the lessons offered by the organization aim to promote diversity and inclusion, including empathy for students who do not conform to gender norms.
“This idea of making things invisible – we know that’s not a solution,” said Bacardi Jackson, acting deputy legal director for children’s rights at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “So we can’t pretend that the subjects don’t exist. We can’t pretend that people don’t exist. And so, setting up a scenario where some kids can come in and talk about their identity or their family, and other kids are left out of those exercises, is deeply damaging.
How do California’s education policies compare to those of other states?
California policies are generally in line with states that have liberal leadership, such as New York. But conservative states — including Texas and Louisiana — have pondered or placed limits on teaching about gender identity.
A new Florida law – which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, saying it marginalizes LGBTQ people – bans classroom teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity from the kindergarten to third grade. At least five other states have similar legislation approved or in the works. And at least 19 states have restricted or are about to restrict children’s access to gender-affirming care when they come into conflict with the individual’s biological sex at birth.
Do parents or the public have the opportunity to participate in decisions about what is taught?
School districts and the state typically have a lengthy public process, including hearings and a comment period, before education officials approve instructional materials. But textbook ratings and reviews rarely attract much attention.
Glendale officials noted that there is also a process for complaining about a lesson. Parents should first raise the issue with the teacher; they can then go to the director and finally, if necessary, make a formal complaint to the district management staff.
Los Angeles Times