Education

Transgender lesson in health class causing a stir at one Fort Worth campus

A health textbook used by the Fort Worth school district has come under fire because it includes the term transgender. This is the textbook used to teach health to sixth-grade students.
A health textbook used by the Fort Worth school district has come under fire because it includes the term transgender. This is the textbook used to teach health to sixth-grade students. dianesmith@star-telegram.com

A sexuality lesson is creating controversy in Fort Worth schools because it includes discussion on transgender, sexual orientation and sexual identity — as part of the district's sixth-grade health curriculum.

"Teaching kids about transgenderism is outside the scope of TEKS and should be off-limits for public school classrooms," states a posting by Stand for Fort Worth, a local watchdog group that promotes parental rights.

On April 26, about 30 parents and individuals met with educators at McLean 6th Grade, a campus near the TCU area, to address concerns that the district didn't present a detailed explanation of what is included in the health class before they allowed their children to participate.

"Children are being taught — at age 12 under the guise of abstinence —about same-sex attraction, gender identity and gender expression," said Zeb Pent, spokesman for Stand for Fort Worth.

Parents and critics of the curriculum have complained that they were not allowed to review the textbook.

Stand for Fort Worth has started an online petition that states: "Tell Fort Worth ISD To Stop Hiding Transgender Curriculum From Parents." It had 252 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

Pent said the lesson oversteps on the religious values across several religions, including Muslim, Jewish and Christian.

"There is no such thing as gender expression," Pent said. "There's male and there is female."

LGBTQ issues in the spotlight

This flap comes as LGBTQ issues in North Texas schools have gained national attention. In Mansfield schools, a gay art teacher sued the district for sexual orientation discrimination. She was placed on paid leave after being accused of spreading "a homosexual agenda."

In 2016, the Fort Worth school district’s transgender guidelines became a divisive issue that dominated the news. The guidelines offered protection for transgender and other students — assuring that they can use a restroom where they “must feel comfortable and safe.” Opponents said it was opening the door to safety issues.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner to resign, saying , “Every parent, especially those of young girls, should be outraged.”

Speaking before the morning session at the State GOP Convention in Dallas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks about the FWISD transgendered bathroom controversy.

Scribner told the Star-Telegram the sixth-grade health curriculum meets Texas' education standards. It includes several books on different aspects of health, including one called "Abstinence Puberty & Personal Health."

"We are confident it is consistent with TEKS and addresses the health standards of Texas," Scribner said, adding that educators are professional in the handling of this subject.

Talking about Sexuality

The term transgender is among 25 terms included in a lesson about sexuality. The teacher's guide defines transgender as "a term that describes people who are born as one sex but feel more like the other."

Also listed among the terms are bisexual, gay, sexual abstinence and straight.

Scribner said the curriculum has been in place since April 2015. It is used at 22 schools. About 18,000 sixth-grade students have been taught the curriculum in the last three years. A school health advisory council that includes parents and educators review the curriculum.

Scribner said parents receive a Notice Regarding Sexuality Instruction and can opt their children out of the health program. This year, 50 students opted out.

The district issued a letter to concerned parents or individuals outlining how the curriculum is chosen. It also stressed that the viewpoints of parents and the community are always welcome.

But Pent said when parents reached out to him they were "wildly upset." He said one parent became alarmed when her son asked about gender identity. He said they talked about the topic at school and when she asked to see his textbook, he told her they can't bring them home because they have to check them back in with the teacher.

The superintendent said anyone can access the textbook by asking his or her school principal.

The 36th annual event in downtown Fort Worth follows the Pulse nightclub shooting, and organizers wanted to encourage the LGBT community to live their lives in the open and without fear.

This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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