The Lodi Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday evening heard concerns parents had over how Senate Bill 48 will impact their children’s education.
Signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in July 2011, SB 48 requires California public schools to include the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans — as well as members of other cultural groups and people with disabilities — in their history and social science curricula.
“This isn’t this board’s idea, this is a law that’s been passed,” said Board Member George Neely. “The question is, what do we do about it?”
Neely was present at the first of two parent information nights, he said, held May 20 at Lois E. Borchardt Elementary School. At that meeting, he said numerous parents voiced concerns about second-graders learning that Sally Ride — the first American female astronaut in space — was also a lesbian.
“Because the obvious question from a second-grader is going to be: ‘Teacher, what’s a lesbian?’” Neely said.
Neely felt that parents, and not teachers, should be the ones to answer such questions for their children. By doing so, he said, fewer parents would opt their children out of class those days.
“If we turn it over to parents and let them deal with it, I think that’s the best decision,” Neely said.
Joe Nava, the school board’s vice president, suggested that a curriculum committee research the material and develop solutions for teachers who are asked questions about sexual orientations during history or social science classes.
“It’s a touchy subject, but I think we should be able to accommodate the parents,” Nava said.
Board President Gary Knackstedt agreed with Nava.
“I have a lot of trust in our teachers to be professional and handle this curriculum,” Knackstedt said. “That being said, our teachers should not have to handle it alone.”
Board Member Courtney Porter asked Lisa Kotowski, LUSD’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, if there is a way to “pump the breaks” on rolling out the curriculum and whether or not she has asked other school districts if they have experienced similar issues.
“This cannot be just us that’s having this issue,” Porter said.
Kotowski said that while other school districts have had similar problems with implementing SB 48, she does not see a way to delay implementing the law’s requirements.
“These books have already been purchased,” Kotowski said. “They’re already in use.”
Porter reiterated that he would prefer if the district waited to review the course material to ensure that it is age-appropriate.
“In this situation, a second-grade teacher that has to deal with certain sexual orientations, that’s awful young,” Porter said.
Kotowski also took a moment to emphasize that SB 48 only governs history and social science courses and not sexual education. Instead, she said, the law was intended to give representation to various groups who may have previously been excluded from the curricula.
“We are not teaching about sex education,” Kotowski said. “It’s just talking about and recognizing that our students have families that are different from the nuclear family.”
Porter maintained that he would prefer that topics such as sexual orientation be left to parents, as he does not want to see parents opt their students out of class.
Kotowski suggested that if the school district and parents do not want the material taught, they should send a resolution to the legislators who passed SB 48 in the first place.
“That is something that I could recommend,” Kotowski said.
Knackstedt then asked Michelle Orgon, president of the Lodi Education Association, if she has heard any concerns from teachers and what strategies they might need when implementing SB 48.
“Through the grapevine, I have not heard of any serious problems from the teachers,” Orgon said.
Teachers at some grade levels were unable to get to the course material required by SB 48 last year, Orgon said, and she suggested that teachers receive more training in the subject matter. She also warned the district against trying to find loopholes in the law.
“I would caution that we stick to what the state has set up for frameworks,” Orgon said.
Orgon also asked that teachers be included in future discussions about how to implement SB 48’s requirements.
“This is the first that I’ve heard of it,” Orgon said.
Robert T. Schlipp, a parent and lead pastor at Radiant Life Church, believes that the Bible sets the standard for heterosexuality as the only acceptable sexual orientation. He thanked the board for — as he saw it — working to keep subject matter that he feels is inappropriate out of classrooms.
“Our family supports your efforts to enact policies and processes that honor the Christian faith of many of the students, parents, teachers and administrators in this district,” Schlipp said. “Furthermore, some of the figures highlighted are not the positive role models that the curriculum purports them to be, and the implementation of this curriculum could prove problematic for some educators and families alike.”
Lana Gentry, a social science teacher at Bear Creek High School, said that while she had not heard of these concerns until Tuesday night’s meeting, she did have concerns about parents opting their students out of classes by having them complete alternative assignments.
“My concern is that if we start doing alternative (assignments) and opting out, where does it end?” Gentry said.
Christina Short, a mother of three with a master’s in early childhood education, said she recently reviewed the curriculum frameworks.
“They are absolutely on target for appropriateness for age group,” Short said.
Short sympathized with other parents’ concerns about instilling values in their children, and their reluctance to embrace change.
“It was hard for me when my 14-year-old daughter came out to me as a lesbian in the seventh grade,” Short said. “She’s not out having sex with anybody...but she knows who makes her heart thump more. She has crushes, just like we had crushes. She’s going to have heroes and role models that she needs to look to to validate her experience.”
The new curriculum is necessary, Short said, because LGBT members already attend LUSD schools, as do members of other underrepresented communities covered by SB 48.
“I support you representing all of us, because we’re here,” Short said.
Laura Christopherson, a parent who also teaches in Galt, urged the board to trust that teachers know how to teach potentially controversial subjects in an age-appropriate way. She also addressed concerns that SB 48 would require schools to teach sexual education to elementary school students.
“The curriculum is not about sex, it’s about history,” Christopherson said.
Christopherson also encouraged the board to make sure that they cater to the needs of everybody in the school district, not just what she believes may simply be a vocal minority, when they make a decision during a future board meeting.
“I just caution that you look at things a little wider than just the group that has come,” Christopherson said.