After a heated debate that went past midnight as hundreds crowded a Wednesday school board meeting, Rocklin Unified School District trustees narrowly approved a new curriculum that includes contributions made by LGBT figures.
The 3-2 decision came after hours of public comments. At 1 a.m., the district said it was set to adopt the new K-5 history and social studies curriculum.
Parents in opposition urged the district to pilot an alternative program, saying the students were too young to learn that historical figures identified as gay or lesbian.
The meeting was held at a Rocklin middle school gymnasium to accommodate the large crowd. Many supporters of the curriculum wore yellow, and both sides cheered their speakers and were filled with emotions during public comments.
California’s FAIR Education Act, passed in 2011, mandates that school textbooks and curricula be more inclusive of historically underrepresented communities, including those with disabilities, from various religious backgrounds, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The district’s chosen curriculum, Studies Weekly, complies with the FAIR Education Act — also referred to as the LGBT History Bill. The bill, SB 48, is often met with debate when implemented at the school district level.
The district spent a year piloting several units of the the new curriculum, introducing it to 35 teachers in the majority of the district’s schools, said deputy superintendent Kathleen Pon.
“All students should be able to see a role model in their textbook, and say, ‘A person like me did something great, and I can do something great too,’” said Whitney High School student Michael Whiteside.
But nearly 1,000 Rocklin residents signed a petition asking the district to delay the decision to adopt a new curriculum, because they said elementary students were too young to understand sexual orientation.
And those opposing the new curriculum threatened to hold a “sit-out” and not send their children to school on Friday.
“We believe that anyone who has made a significant contribution to society should, of course, be included in our history textbooks,” said Rachel Crutchfield, spokeswoman for Informed Parents of Rocklin. “However, the concept of sexual orientation is far too complex of a topic for elementary-aged children to be introduced to at school. Children in second grade simply do not have the tools to comprehend sexuality, nor do we want them to. Let’s let kids be kids.”
Crutchfield said she understands and agrees with including LGBT leaders in history curriculum, but that it should be done in later grades when students can comprehend “complex sexual topics.”
In the proposed second grade textbook, Studies Weekly describes Sally Ride as a “good example for all females,” and states that she “joined NASA and became the first female and first lesbian American astronaut.”
The curriculum also includes figures from communities that have lacked inclusion in textbooks in the past, such as Dalip Singh Saund, an Indian American who advocated for Asian American rights when Indians were barred from becoming citizens.
“Growing up, I did not see myself included in educational books,” said Diana Madoshi, a Rocklin resident who is African-American and supports the new curriculum. “When you came here, you had to stop at a stop light, and I am sure you didn’t know that it was invented by a black man.”
Informed Parents of Rocklin proposed that the district adopt an alternative program, called Exploring Social Studies, which also complies with California’s educational standards. According to Crutchfield, the curriculum doesn’t explicitly identify Sally Ride and other LGBT figures as gay or lesbian.
Some students at the board meeting spoke up about why sexual orientation matters.
“The fact of the matter is there are many figures who were homosexual, and their sexuality greatly impacted their life. To not say that would be offering an incomplete picture of history,” said Whitney High student Rohan Sharma.
New curricula that comply with the FAIR Education Act are being introduced statewide as textbooks begin to wear out and grow outdated. Some teachers at the meeting said they cannot teach inclusiveness without new supportive curricula.
“Many students enter middle school already knowing they’re different, which is why it’s so important for this curriculum to be adopted at the elementary level,” said Rocklin math teacher Amy Bentley.
Greg Burt from the California Family Council said he opposes the curriculum not just because it’s taught to children when they are too young, but because he said it’s not done objectively.
“Some people want it to be thought of as normal, and you have another group of folks who believe sex should be limited between a man and woman in marriage,” he said. “The textbooks completely disregard the religious and conservative world view, and it isn’t taught objectively.”
Some students and parents pushed back at the idea of what is considered a normal definition of marriage.
“Sexuality is already taught to students when textbooks say that John F. Kennedy is married to Jackie Kennedy,” said Sharma.
Burt said that the only solution would be to teach both points of view about gender identification and sexual orientation.
“But instead, one view is the right view and the religious and conservatives are the wrong bigoted view,” he said. “Parents are being told to ‘get with the program.’”
Similar debates are occurring in other districts in the Sacramento region and across the state. Elk Grove Unified and San Juan Unified adopted new curriculum this year that included LGBT figures,
In February, after spirited discussion at a crowded school board meeting, Elk Grove Unified trustees voted unanimously to adopt textbooks that comply with the new standards.
Sex education and LGBT inclusiveness have both been contentious issues in California legislation. The state Board of Education will decide May 8 whether to adopt the proposed Health Education Framework, which provides guidance for teachers and administrators on teaching health education, including sexual health, emotional health and the effects of alcohol and narcotics.