Sunday, Apr 14th

Fifth Grade Sex Ed Classes to Include Discussion of Gender Expression and Gender Identity

genderChanges to the fifth-grade health curriculum this year, as it relates to puberty education, have met with objections from some parents. At issue is the inclusion of new content about gender expression and gender identity and a decision to conduct the classes in mixed gender groups rather than separating girls from boys as it has been traditionally done.

In an email dated February 29 to fifth grade parents from Assistant Director for Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction Edgar McIntosh he explained the plans.

His email says, “The curriculum content reflects much of what has been taught in previous years, including the discussion of healthy habits during puberty: the importance of hydration, nutrition, sleep, stress management, exercise, and technology and their effects on health.

As before, there will be a discussion of what causes puberty to begin, hygiene awareness, body changes, and processes related to female development (menstruation and menstrual cycle) and male development (erections and nocturnal emissions).”

However, he outlined the new plans saying, “Two content changes are being made from past years that reflect guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics' inclusive approach to puberty education.”

“Both sex assigned at birth and gender identity will be discussed. Students will also learn that gender expression and gender identity exist along a spectrum and discuss the potential impact of gender-role stereotypes on one's self and others.

Lessons will be delivered to mixed-gender groups with opportunities for students to ask questions anonymously and privately. Small group learning sessions will also take place.”

As for the rationale behind the new curriculum, McIntosh explains, “As part of our work on creating the most inclusive environment for all students and families, we strive to reflect the lived experiences of our students and families in our curriculum. The points of the discussions are to both educate students and to create empathy for different life experiences. Puberty is a time when questions about gender and gender expression are extremely relevant and an omission of this content would not serve the learning and emotional needs of our students.”

He said that continuing to separate the sexes for these discussions can “perpetuate the stigma of the topic and that students who are gender diverse are better catered for in mixed groups.” He also said students act more “maturely” in mixed groups and that in mixed groups students can “learn about topics from different perspectives from different genders and develop empathy for the changes and challenges experienced by those of another biological sex.”

Asked if this curriculum is required by the state, McIntosh said, “There is no law to teach gender diversity during puberty instruction. There is no mandate that we teach puberty in fifth grade at all. In our goal to provide fact-based, inclusive, and body-positive puberty instruction, we would not be serving our students if we did not address gender diversity.”

Further justification for the program is based on Board of Education Policy 105 which states that “The Scarsdale Union Free School District… recognize that inclusive education is based on the principles of acceptance and inclusion of all members of the school community. Therefore, students and faculty should see themselves reflected in the curriculum, physical surroundings, staff/faculty representation, and the broader environment, in which diversity is honored and all individuals are respected.”

McIntosh said that the curriculum is guided by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and National Sex Education Standards.

He assured parents that the program rollout had been extensively planned. The elementary school PE teachers who will teach the classes had been trained during summer planning days, at a Scarsdale Teacher’s Institute Class and at Superintendent’s Conference Day.

However, all of this planning has failed to reassure some parents who say they had no opportunity to give feedback about the program and “strongly prefer to have such gender identity and gender expression discussions with our children in the manner we believe is best for their emotional and developmental health. “

They are asking for the school to give them the chance to opt their children out from the gender identity portion of the program but still participate in the balance of the three-day program which includes nutrition, hydration, technology, and sleep habits.

They also feel that since gender identity and expression will be taught in middle school it might be a more appropriate time for children to learn about these topics.

A letter stating these objections is being circulated to fifth grade parents asking them to write to the Board of Education.

Responding to parents, McIntosh made two additional points:

1) The district does not seek parent consensus on curricular matters

2) Though he is happy to set up a meeting with parents, he would not entertain suggestions from them on revising, editing or eliminating any of the content.

Here is what he said: "As in other curriculum areas, we rely on external research and guidance, and internal educator expertise to adopt, adapt, and design our curriculum- we do not seek parent consensus. It has, however, always been our practice to lead with a thoughtful and thorough explanation of our process and rationale- and answer parent questions related to either.”

He added: "…. I do want to be clear, that my purpose for the meeting would be to review the lessons related to puberty and answer questions, not as an opportunity for parents to suggest how we might revise, edit, or eliminate any of the lessons or their content."

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