Vernon parents worry about gender identity, sexual health lessons

VERNON. New education standards would bring the topic of personal gender expression to the second-grade level.

Vernon /
| 25 Jul 2022 | 12:55

Several parents spoke to the Vernon Township School District Board of Education on July 21 to express concern over the state’s new health standards, set to be implemented in 2022-23.

Parent Lisa Soto expressed concern of new standards for second graders that says they need to define reproduction, which includes explanations on how parents may care for their offspring (e.g., animals, people, fish), and discuss the range of ways people express themselves and their gender, and how stereotypes may limit behavior.

She was also concerned about fifth-grade standards that said those students would need to explain common human sexual development and the roles of hormones, such as romantic and sexual feelings, masturbation, mood swings and the onset of puberty.

By eighth grade, students are required to differentiate between gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.

“I understand that children are exposed to a wide variety of social concepts and different worldviews and different views for their outside life,” Soto said. “But I don’t believe the school is the setting in which to discuss these more in depth.”

Laurie Toth said she didn’t believe it was a school issue. “I would not feel comfortable for my child to be part of those discussions related to gender identity,” she said.

Superintendent Karen D’Avino said the district’s curriculum has not yet been revived and that will happen in August; Director of Curriculum Vincent Gagliostro said the district’s physical education teachers will go through the curriculum in August and figure out what will be taught during the school year.

Gagliostro said the objected-to standard for second graders isn’t expected to be taught in the spring.

“We have a little bit of leeway there,” he said. “But we will know this summer because that’s when teachers are doing curriculum work.”

Gagliostro also said the only changes are to the second-grade standards. He said the fifth-grade standards have been in place.

“These are lessons that have been in place and there has always been an ‘opt-out’ option in fifth grade for that,” Gagliostro said.

D’Avino said with the expected placement of the new second-grade standard in the spring, it’s possible teachers may not even get to it. Even though the district is supposed to get to all the standards, it’s rare the district gets to all of them.

“If we get to May or June, and people say, ‘where’s that lesson? Where’s that lesson? I never got the opt-out. What’s happening?’ It means we didn’t get to that standard. So that may occur as we get through the school year.”

Gagliostro said the standards will be included in the curriculum. When the standards are adapted in lessons is where the district’s interpretation of the standards comes into play.

“We’re going to review the standards and talk about the development of our lesson plans,” D’Avino said.