Parents, teachers rip new state, CUSD sex ed - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Parents, teachers rip new state, CUSD sex ed

February 13th, 2022 development
Parents, teachers rip new state, CUSD sex ed

By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

More than a dozen students, teachers and parents admonished the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board Feb. 9 over its rollout of a new policy that requires parents to opt into any classwork that includes sexuality.

A couple of the 16 people who spoke became emotional as they told the board the district went even further than the state law requires, calling it discriminatory in how it treats LGBTQ+ people.

“I personally had to sign a permission slip for my ninth-grader to read ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ of all things,” Krista McKinney said. “Parents also had to sign permission slips for their children to participate in a cooking class about chicken breasts.”

The comments came during the time the public is allowed to address the governing board. Each speaker was limited to two minutes for their comments and board members are forbidden by law from responding to those comments during the meeting under most circumstances. Most of the speakers met afterward with a district official.

The CUSD Governing Board revised its Parental Involvement in Education policy in December to conform with the new state law that made Arizona the fifth state in the country requiring parents to opt into sex education for their kids. The policy has been referred to as the “KB Policy” because it was sections K and B that were revised.

District spokesman Terry Locke confirmed that a permission slip was sent in January to parents of students in a cooking class because the subject involved chicken breasts but stressed that this was “simply it was a misinterpretation of the legislative statute” and that it “was corrected and did not apply to the context or content.”

He said the “administration and teacher resolved and communicated the correction.”

A couple speakers said the revisions burden teachers, forcing them to track who has returned signed permission slips and who has not and then having to create an alternative lesson for the children of parents who did not opt in.

Several teachers and high school students also ripped the policy, noting the rising suicide rate among young people in the LGBTQ community and warning the new policy would further marginalize them.

“When I first heard this I thought, alright, no problem, I don’t teach sexuality,” said Caroline Sheridan, a teacher at Chandler High School. “I teach English and I teach criminal justice. … Somehow I found out I need permission slips before I can teach, “Of Mice and Men,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Othello,” “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I can’t teach about Emmett Till without a permission slip. Of course, this makes no sense.”

Sheridan said she was told she would need permission slips to teach any subject material if the author was a member of the LGBTQ+ community. District officials immediately said that was incorrect.

Sheridan said she also received notice in a district email that she would need a permission slip if any character in a work is a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Imagine how it would feel to be a student and feel … people need permission slips to hear about someone like me,” Sheridan said. “It’s horrifying, it’s offensive and it’s tragic.”

Diane Mendel of Gilbert asked the board what it and the district did to ask students and parents for input when it was formulating the policy.

District officials denied that the policy suppressed all teaching about the LGBTQ community.

“At no point, I can tell you, that when we were deciding how to address this policy, which is based on legislation, at no time was it that we should not be addressing or learning about LGBTQ in our community,” said Dr. Craig Gilbert, the assistant superintendent of secondary education.

Gilbert told the speakers if they have concerns now, they should check out what the Legislature is working on this year because he said they are looking to build on what they passed last year.

“We’re not asking our teachers to stop teaching what they are teaching,” Gilbert said. “The issue with this policy has to do with the permission slip, not to stop teaching. … We have to put in policy because of the legislation.”

Superintendent Frank Narducci said the public needs to pay attention to what the Legislature is passing because they have little choice but to follow the law once it becomes statute.

“It doesn’t matter who writes a book, if it’s great literature, it will be read,” Narducci said. “We are not going to destroy classics. There was some confusion … if we went past what needed to happen. We definitely need to look at the impacts and that we do not put ultra-burdens on our teachers. We take that seriously all the time.”

Katie Nash, the president of the Chandler Education Association that represents teachers in the district, said the communication for the rollout of this new policy could have been better.

“Unfortunately, I think the district … the communication, the roll out of it, the delivery of it, wasn’t well done,” Nash said. “There probably should have been a staff meeting to explain to people what it is and how to implement it in their classes. Unfortunately, it was sent as an email with attachments saying please use this permission slip.”

Nash said that some teachers may have gone too far in implementing the policy to “cover their butts.”