Caitlin Edmondson stepped to the podium during the Carroll County Board of Education’s public comment session earlier this month and urged board members not to adopt the state’s new health curriculum, which she said would “sexualize” young students. Other parents called the plan “sexual indoctrination.”
The topic was not on the school board’s April 13 meeting agenda and no members offered comments on the issue. Jim Rodriguez, the school system’s supervisor of health and physical education, said the school sytem’s Family Life Advisory Committee will discuss the curriculum at its June 2 meeting.
The Maryland State Board of Education adopted the Comprehensive Health Education Framework in October 2019, a 51-page document that details broad concepts students learn at each grade level. It includes curriculum guidelines for health education with instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity taught in an age-appropriate manner to children from preschool through 12th grade.
The Framework Writing Committee included officials from nine public school districts throughout Maryland, including Carroll County. Christine Tobias, assistant supervisor of health education at Carroll County Public Schools, was a member. Tobias did not respond to requests for comment.
The framework states that pre-kindergarten students will “recognize and respect that people express themselves in many different ways” and that kindergarteners will “recognize it is important to treat people of all gender identities and expressions with dignity and respect.” It also states that first-graders will “identify a range of ways people identify and express gender.”
Several parents, including Edmondson, brought up the topic during public comment at the Carroll County school board meeting.
“I refuse to allow the state or the public school system to sexualize my young children,” Edmondson said. “This is sexual grooming that is being passed off as diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Some parents also spoke about their disapproval of rainbow pride flags that some teachers were displaying inside Carroll County public school classrooms. The flags were provided by a local chapter of the equality advocacy nonprofit PFLAG, which stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
“After reading about the state health education’s framework that is currently being reviewed and the recent distribution of pride flags in all of the schools in the county, I’m very concerned,” Edmondson said.
Joy Fisher, Westminster’s chapter president of PFLAG and a project manager at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore did not attend the school board meeting, but was aware of the comments. She said the state’s health curriculum is aligned with modern research and is developmentally appropriate for children.
“Research shows that children have an understanding of their gender identity by age 4,” Fisher said, citing a 2018 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“If one actually reviews the framework guidelines, pre-kindergarten children learn to recognize that there are different types of families, i.e. single parent, same-gender parents, interracial, adoptive, etc. [and] part of the framework includes understanding that people express themselves in many different ways,” Fisher said. “Learning about gender identity, gender expression, and family make-up, such as children with same-gender parents, has nothing to do with teaching about sex,” Fisher said.
Fisher believes the new state guidelines will foster a healthy and supportive classroom culture by helping children make sense of the diverse world around them.
“Learning about diverse family compositions is very appropriate and is in keeping with the real world,” Fisher said. “Young children will have classmates who have different families than their own, and they will have classmates who express themselves in diverse ways.”
Kathleen Clagg, who has a grandson in the school system, stated in her comments during the meeting that parents should decide what’s best for their children.
“I’m troubled and I’m disturbed at what the Maryland state board has decided for this state, and I’m so afraid that our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will be subjected to this,” Clagg said. “Our children deserve better. Children belong to the parents, not this county, not the state. Do not refuse to acknowledge what parents want for their children; it is their right, not yours.”
Carole Williamson, Carroll Community College associate professor for Early Childhood Education and program director for the college’s Littlest Learners child development center, said it is critical that children of all ages see themselves in all aspects of the classroom.
“We use the phrase ‘mirrors and windows’ to explain to our future teachers that all children must see representations of themselves [and] their families as well as be able to look out and value the differences that they see in others,” Williamson explained.
“This teaching allows young children to see that there is nothing wrong about themselves or their families, and it also does not have to align with a teacher’s religious or moral principles to provide these opportunities for inclusion. But excluding this from the classroom sends a strong message to little ones that there is something wrong [or] unacceptable with their families if they are not represented in all facets of the classroom,” Williamson added.
Kit Hart, who attended the April 13 meeting but did not get a chance to speak, said only parents should educate their children about sex and gender identity. She currently serves as the chair of the Carroll County chapter of Moms for Liberty, a national organization that supports members who “have a desire to stand up for parental rights at all levels of government.”
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“Each family has different beliefs about these sensitive subjects and should be able to decide when and how to broach these conversations with their children,” Hart said. “In the curriculum, students as young as 4 will be introduced to gender identity, which is highly inappropriate and irrelevant to their young minds; the innocence of children should be preserved and respected.”
Rodriguez said Carroll County Public Schools’ Family Life Advisory Committee will work with the school board to align the curriculum with the “values of the community.” The committee is comprised of about 30 parent and school representatives from elementary, middle, and high schools, he added.
“As the local curriculum is developed, the committee is looking at those standards and those indicators and also receiving some insight from the board on what they want us to invest in as far as that framework,” Rodriguez said.
The Family Life Advisory Committee will hold its next regular meeting on June 2 and will discuss the new health curriculum at that time, he said.
Last month, the Frederick County Public Schools Board of Education faced pushback from concerned parents on the new health curriculum. That county’s school board voted unanimously to approve the state’s guidelines at its March 23 meeting, and its Family Life Advisory Committee was beset by about 100 protestors during an early April meeting.
As a result, the Frederick school board released a statement affirming its decision to honor the state-mandated standards.
“The elected Board of Education of Frederick County approves essential curriculum standards,” the statement said. “[We are] committed to creating a system that welcomes, includes and affirms every child, family, staff member and community member. Our children are watching, and our children and community are too important for Frederick County to detour from our caring and respectful nature when discussing issues.”