Education

Rocklin kindergarten teacher caught in firestorm over transgender book named teacher of the year

Rocklin's Kaelin Swaney named teacher of the year

Rocklin kindergarten teacher Kaelin Swaney, who was criticized after she read a book about a transgender child during story time in June, was named teacher of the year Monday by the California Charter Schools Association.
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Rocklin kindergarten teacher Kaelin Swaney, who was criticized after she read a book about a transgender child during story time in June, was named teacher of the year Monday by the California Charter Schools Association.

The Rocklin kindergarten teacher who was engulfed in a firestorm of criticism after she read a book about a transgender child during story time in June was named teacher of the year Monday by the California Charter Schools Association – much to the consternation of some conservative groups.

The book “I am Jazz,” about a real-life transgender girl named Jazz Jennings, was brought to Rocklin Academy Gateway school by a transgender student at the end of last school year. It divided the school along ideological lines, sparked a flurry of vitriol on social media and conservative websites, and drew more than 500 people to a raucous, often tearful school board meeting in September.

On Monday, officials of the charter school association commended teacher Kaelin Swaney for her commitment to providing a safe learning environment for all children by naming her Hart Vision Teacher of the Year at its annual conference in San Diego.

“We are really very proud of Kaelin,” said Robin Stout, , executive director of Rocklin Academy Family of Schools. “She is an outstanding teacher – always putting kids first.”

Stout said she was especially proud of how Swaney showed up at school every day, even when she was receiving hate mail from across the country. “We had to provide a security guard, and for her to show up every single day among the controversy and to still be there for her kids was very remarkable, “ she said.

Swaney declined to be interviewed for this story.

Karen England is executive director of the Capitol Resource Institute, a conservative advocacy group that organized parents in protest last year over the reading of the book. She said she was shocked to hear Swaney had been honored. “I think they should be ashamed of themselves for awarding her teacher of the year,” England said of CCSA. “There were a lot of lives impacted negatively.”

England has a long track record of opposing changes supported by the LGBT community. Her group fought same-sex marriage and a state law (AB1266) that permits transgender students to join athletic teams and use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identities.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a religious freedom organization, called the award an alarm for any parent with children enrolled in a charter school in the state of California. He said the association's decision to award the honor to Swaney shows that it does not prioritize parental trust.

"(It) speaks volumes to the ears of concerned parents throughout California who are considering charter schools for their children," he said.

England said that some Rocklin Academy parents are upset about the award and are planning to pull their kids out of the school at the end of the school year.

The charter school system lost about 90 students because of the controversy over the book, but currently has 1,000 students on its waiting list and another 1,000 applying for enrollment for next school year, Stout said.

Stout and other Gateway Academy staff were still at the conference when contacted Wednesday and had not heard directly from anyone who was unhappy about the honor. Stout is hopeful that news of the award won’t create the dissension the charter school system experienced last year.

“I think, like in the fall, we want to get back to teaching and learning and the political agenda is getting in the way and that is disheartening," Stout said. "We want to get back to the work that we do."

In September the Rocklin Academy Family of Schools denied a “model parental rights” proposal put forward by England’s organization in response to the reading of the children’s book. On Wednesday she said the proposal is being shopped to other school districts, including the Newcastle Elementary School District.

How schools discuss transgender issues with students is governed by state law, including the Fair Education Act, signed in 2011. The law requires that the contributions of minority groups, the disabled and the LGBT community be included in educational textbooks in public schools.

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