Editorials

Opposition to 6th grade transgender lesson recalls battle over bathroom bill

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

The hysteria that surrounded bathrooms for transgender students may have found a new target.

It comes in the form of a 6th grade health curriculum guide, Abstinence, Puberty & Personal Health, published by ETR Associates, being used in 26 Fort Worth middle schools. It includes a lesson on gender identity where what it means to be transgender is discussed.

We hope we’re wrong, but the flap building over this lesson feels like the transgender-phobic crowd is gearing up for another fight that could help revive a bathroom bill when the legislature convenes again in January. Or it might add fuel to a looming battle over what state education officials approve next year in the health curriculum.

We don’t need or want the legislature to revisit the bathroom bill and waste the taxpayers’ money. And when the new health curriculum is written it would be wrong not to acknowledge we have people living among us who do not identify as heterosexual.

CURRENT GENDER ID CONTROVERSY

In this current controversy, the group Stand for Fort Worth, on its website, takes aim at a lesson plan which introduces terminology the group says contributes to “values of the sexual revolution.” Terms including transgender, bisexual, homosexual, and gay.

The teacher’s guide suggests the discussion be approached this way: “People can have different types of sexual attractions, or sexual orientations. They may be heterosexual or straight, gay or lesbian, or bisexual. Not being sexually attracted to anybody is also normal and OK.”

That seems pretty straightforward, and we suspect plenty of 12-year olds have heard these words before. Isn’t it better that they get accurate information from educators and hopefully from parents, instead of looking for explanations online and finding who knows what?

Zeb Pent, a spokesman with Stand for Fort Worth, says his group is mostly upset because when parents received written information about the health textbook at the beginning of the year they weren’t told these concepts would be discussed. He also claims parents haven’t been allowed to see the instructional material.

Here's a letter district staff recently sent to FWISD trustees explaining the situation

He may have a point about the written letter. The district letter we’ve seen doesn’t specifically mention a lesson on gender identity. Next time around the district needs to be very specific and mention these sensitive subjects up front so parents who object can choose not to have their children take the class, something a small group of parents did this year.

Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner says, however, parents have not been denied access to the teacher’s guide and student workbook. He says the content of the lesson meets state curriculum standards, and this isn’t something an activist teacher just decided to teach. The district has a School Health Advisory Committee made up of educators and community members who reviewed the material.

GENDER IDENTITY OPPONENTS

The real aim of Stand for Fort Worth seems to be in taking gender identity off the table as a topic of classroom discussion.

“There is no such thing as gender expression,” said Pent. “You have boys and girls,” he told the Star-Telegram.

Two years ago Stand for Texas referred to transgender people as possible “predators” during the debate over bathrooms available to transgender students. The group, which includes parents, opposed the Fort Worth school district’s guidelines for allowing transgender students to use a restroom where they feel “comfortable and safe.”

The issue gained steam at the legislature in 2017 as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other state leaders pressed hard for passage of the unsuccessful bathroom bill which required transgender students to use the restroom that conformed to the gender listed on their birth certificates.

Superintendent Scribner told the Star-Telegram this health curriculum debate feels a little like the second act of the bathroom bill fiasco. He no doubt remembers the Lieutenant Governor calling for his resignation when he wouldn’t back down from the district’s policy on transgender lavatory accommodations.

LOOMING SEX ED DEBATE

Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network — which produced a detailed report on sex education last year — says opposition to schools including discussion of LGBTQ topics is a “cudgel to attack sex education in general, and prevent comprehensive sex education.”

That can of worms will be opened up next year when state education officials develop new health curriculum standards for kindergarten through 12th grade.

This fuss in Fort Worth is just a minor dress rehearsal for that debate which will consider lots of uncomfortable topics like teaching about contraception, sexually transmitted disease, puberty and all these gender ID words making some people squirm.

We respect a parent’s right and preference to handle these sensitive topics at home. Just don’t take them off the table for the many students whose parents will never mention them or who don’t have the facts.

As they mature, the sixth graders will try to make sense of who they are. And whatever they decide they need to feel accepted, not part of a group no one wants to talk about.

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