Education, Exclusives, Politics, Uncategorized

Green: Teacher training to ‘cultivate a queer mindset’ leaves parents behind

I am a mother of a student in the St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD). Several years ago, I watched transgender teens share their stories to the school board about their struggles to feel safe and accepted in school. I was moved by their sincerity and courage. The district acted immediately and adopted policies and partnerships to prevent bullying and exclusion. This is a positive achievement. But recent developments have raised concerns that one of the partners, an organization called A Queer Endeavor (AQE), is exposing our children to inappropriate content and viewpoints.

In July I learned from a news story that AQE would be hosting its 3rd annual Educator’s Institute for Equity and Justice for teachers from SVVSD and other metro area districts. This was the first time I had ever heard of this organization. My research into this group alarmed me. AQE is primarily funded by CU Boulder and the Twisted Foundation. Their mission is to seek “partnerships with educators and school communities to make ‘unworkable’ the silence that historically has surrounded topics of gender and sexual diversity in education.” According to their website, teachers are encouraged to “move beyond inclusion to cultivate a queer mindset with students.” A sample lesson plan found on their website shows race, gender and sexual orientation woven into a 6th grade math assignment. AQE recommends Andrea Gibson’s queer poetry, even though it contains politically hostile and violent imagery, not appropriate for children. One of the books on their K-12 literature list, The Swimming Pool Library, is aptly categorized as gay erotica and contains graphic descriptions of men having unprotected sex. When I brought these examples to the district, I was assured that AQE’s training is limited in scope to comply with the district’s sexual education guidelines. This did not put my mind at ease, so I signed up for the AQE teacher training to see for myself.

The day before the conference, SVVSD pulled their funding for teachers, citing the legal doctrine of religious neutrality. The district’s lawyers were concerned about a session called, “Turning Swords into Plowshares: Disarming White Christian Supremacy for Queer and Trans Liberation.” The agenda described how “Christianity has been weaponized in curriculum and education policy.” The session would “explore the ways this violence shows up in our classrooms.” Although the speaker edited her session to focus on examples of white Christian supremacy in policies not lesson planning, the hostility towards Christians was clear. SVVSD made the right decision.

In response to the controversy, the non-profit Out Boulder raised money so that any of the 150 SVVSD teachers who wanted to attend the workshop could go despite the district’s concerns. In all, there were at least 450 teachers from across the front range at the conference. I quietly observed the training remotely. I knew I was not welcome when instructors warned of “right-wing spies.” Teachers talked about navigating “scary” parents and working around district policies. One speaker told her breakout group that when conservative parents pulled their children from her school, it was “probably a good thing.” Teachers even admitted to changing grades in their grades books for equity reasons and warned others to be wary of ethics investigations.

Some sessions were sexually explicit and inappropriate. In one session, called “The Discomfort of Unknowing: Embracing Possibility When Teaching Sex, Gender & Sexuality in Elementary Classrooms,” participants shared with each other, “their discomfort discussing their bodies, desire and pleasure.” Another session focused on a human sexuality class that is available at a Boulder high school. The teacher and her recent high school graduate gave an example from the class that was so graphic, I would not repeat it to my husband, much less to a minor child.

In a discussion called “Moving Beyond Inclusion: Cultivating a Queer Mindset with Students,” instructors gave an example from a first-grade teacher who used literature and classroom discussions to confuse children so they could not discern the differences between boys and girls. The speakers explained that the lesson plans are intended to “disrupt the cis heteronormative” belief system of the children and to “rattle their common sense.” Disrupting the well-being of children was a repeated theme throughout the conference.

It is upsetting to hear teachers belittle parents and disregard our values. All children are entitled to feel accepted at school. Teachers who “queer their classrooms” without parental consent should be fired. School districts need to disclose to parents the scope and content of teacher training, so that inappropriate content does not slip into the classrooms unchecked.

Noelle Green lives in Erie and is the parent of a student in the St. Vrain Valley School District.

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