Friday, May 24th

District Addresses Concerns About Changes to Fifth Grade Health Curriculum

genderEarlier this school year Dr. Edgar McIntosh, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, held an informational meeting and then subsequently sent an informational letter to the parents of current 5th grade students to introduce and outline the changes being made to the 5th grade health curriculum. Some of the changes include lessons on gender inclusive puberty, and while many in our District have expressed their support for these changes and see them as a much needed update, others have expressed their reservations about the age appropriateness of the new lessons.

An anonymous letter to Scarsdale10583.com outlined many of the apprehensions including a concern that fifth grade is too young for this topic to be introduced and that these lessons are not being taught in other school districts at the elementary level. The email also explained that the parents would like to be allowed to view the actual materials and lessons that the children themselves will see.

Over the last several weeks, Dr. McIntosh has made a concerted effort to listen to many of these concerns and in response, at the Board of Education Meeting on Monday April 8th, he announced that on April 15th, he will host two presentations about the revised health curriculum. As Mcintosh described, the presentations will explore the “Resources, Materials, guidelines and methods that we are using in our revised 5th grade health lessons…and I will share lesson plans and topics and answer parent questions.”

The presentations are open to all interested parents of current 5th grade students and an invitation to register for either the coffee at 10:30am or the Zoom Webinar at 6pm, has been sent directly to these parents. For parents who have children in other grades in elementary school, an additional informational meeting will be held in June with an exact date and location to be determined.

What's More, McIntosh clarified that the Hastings School District discusses gender at the elementary level as part of their DEI work- as do many independent schools. And going a step further, in a move to be even more transparent and to build a stronger foundation of trust and respect, Dr. McIntosh recently shared the following letter:

Dear Scarsdale Families,

Each year during 5th grade, the health curriculum includes lessons on puberty. As you may be aware, we recently updated the curriculum for 5th grade health as part of our continual process of reviewing curriculum. One of the updates to the curriculum starting this year is that we will be discussing gender identity and gender expression, in addition to topics related to physical changes during puberty. These lessons will occur in mixed-gender groups and will take place over the course of two lessons.

We have received feedback from the community with questions about what will be included in this new curriculum, the rationale for the shift to a more gender-inclusive approach, and the decision to have the discussions in mixed-gender groups. I hope the following information will help answer some of these questions. In addition, we will be hosting an evening meeting for any Scarsdale Elementary families in June. (Exact date and location TBA). Fifth grade parents have already been invited to an information session to learn about the upcoming curriculum. Similar to other curricular areas, we will likely make adjustments in the coming years based on educator feedback and student responses. Those revisions would be reflected in next year’s presentation.

Teaching about gender identity and gender expression during puberty instruction in 5th grade is important for various reasons that align with our educational, psychological, and social-emotional goals.

Educational Goals

Comprehensive Understanding of Puberty: Puberty education is not only about the biological changes that occur but also about understanding oneself and respecting others. Including gender identity and expression helps students grasp the full spectrum of human development.

Specifically:
-Students will understand the meaning of biological sex (vocabulary: male, female, intersex)
-Students will understand the meaning of gender expression and that people’s gender expression can exist on a spectrum (vocabulary: masculine, feminine, androgynous)
-Students will understand the meaning of gender identity and that it can exist on a spectrum (vocabulary: male, female, nonbinary)
-Students will understand that biological sex, gender expression, and gender identity can be aligned or separate (vocabulary: cisgender, transgender)

Inclusivity and Representation: It ensures that all students see themselves represented in the curriculum, which is crucial for their self-esteem and mental health. This inclusivity fosters a more supportive and understanding classroom environment.

Critical Thinking: Discussing gender identity and expression encourages students to think critically about societal norms and stereotypes, promoting open-mindedness and empathy.

Psychological and Developmental Benefits

Early Support: For students beginning to question or understand their own gender identity, early education provides them with the language and concepts to express themselves. It can significantly reduce feelings of isolation or confusion.

Reduced Stigma: By normalizing discussions around gender identity and expression, you contribute to reducing stigma and misconceptions. This is important for the mental health of all students, not just those who may identify as transgender or non-binary.

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL): Understanding and respecting differences is a core component of SEL. Teaching about gender diversity aids in developing empathy, respect, and emotional intelligence among students.

Social Goals

Bullying Prevention: Education about gender identity and expression can directly impact bullying and harassment in schools by promoting understanding and acceptance.

Creating Safe Spaces: Schools that include comprehensive education about gender are more likely to be perceived as safe spaces for all students, which is crucial for their academic and social success.

Community and Parental Engagement: This can be an opportunity to engage with parents and the wider community about the importance of inclusivity and respect for all individuals, extending the values taught in the classroom into the community.

Aligning with Educational Standards

Health and Well-being: The NSES (National Sex Education Standards) describes the importance of teaching about gender identity and expression as part of students' overall health and well-being.

Anti-Discrimination Policies: Teaching about gender identity aligns with BOE Policy and guidance from NY State, ensuring that our elementary schools comply with providing a safe and inclusive environment for all students.

Implementing the Curriculum

When implementing this part of the curriculum, we know it is important to:

Use age-appropriate language and concepts.
-We will not, for example, go into detail about medical interventions
-Discussions of sexual expression will not be covered in these lessons
-Straightforward and accurate terms will be used throughout these lessons

Foster an environment of respect and curiosity, encouraging questions and open discussions.

Provide support resources for students who may have further questions or need assistance. Our school psychologists have resources available for interested families.

Engage with parents and guardians to communicate the goals and content of the curriculum, addressing any concerns they may have.

Incorporating gender identity and expression into puberty education for 5th graders is not only beneficial but necessary for fostering a holistic, inclusive, and supportive learning environment. It prepares students for the diverse world they live in, promoting understanding, empathy, and respect for all individuals.

Guidance has come from the following sources below. Please note that we are making thoughtful and age-appropriate determinations about the scope, content, and exact vocabulary taken from these resource documents.

NY State Health Learning Standards
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ You-ology: A Puberty Guide for EVERY Body, Holmes, Hutchinson, and Lowe
Ultimate Kids' Guide to Being Super Healthy: What You Need To Know About Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep, Hygiene, Stress, Screen Time, and More by Nina L. Shapiro
National Sexual Education Standards (NSES)
New York State Guidance
Gender Spectrum
We look forward to answering questions and engaging in a conversation about our rationale and approach.
Sincerely,

Edgar McIntosh
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

If a parent, after reading this letter and/or attending one of the presentations on the 25th where attendees will be walked through the details of the revised lessons plans, still has any uneasiness or concerns, McIntosh has provided a choice for these parents to opt their children out of the gender inclusive puberty lessons. Forms to opt out, have been sent directly to the parents of current 5th grade students.

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