Curriculum under scrutiny at Board of Ed meeting

KENT — The Kent Center School media center was crowded Wednesday evening with about 35 residents who came to the Board of Education meeting to express opinions about Region One’s controversial program that teaches children about healthy relationships.

A group of parents unhappy about the program, which includes a unit on different kinds of gender identifications, appeared before the board in April expressing angry sentiments about the program and the failure of the school to hold an informational meeting for parents in a timely fashion. The problem was compounded when the school failed to provide opt-out forms for parents through an “oversight.”

Since the April meeting there has been continuing sentiment expressed online.

Scott Trabucco, former chairman of the Board of Education, said he was proud of the administration and the board for supporting the program presented by Project SAGE (formerly Women’s Support Services). “I support the parents’ right to opt out,” he said, “but I am upset that the rhetoric on Facebook mimics the national conversation.”

He objected to the group’s desire to have an “opt-in” option for parents rather than an “opt-out.” “They want to paint it as an ‘R’ rated class not suited for children.,” he said, encouraging the school board to “leave it just as is with an opt-out for those who feel it is too sensitive for their children.”

Crystal Green, one of the parents alarmed by the program, said she was “not trying to ban the program from the school,” but said, “there is room for parents to have an opinions about what their children should or shouldn’t be learning while in school.”

Opting out is “a right every parent has,” she said, adding that if parents had been notified early enough, “we wouldn’t be here tonight.” She urged that parents be required to opt-in and that a regular alternative learning experience be provided children whose parents who do not want them to participate.

Her husband, Eric, said he and his wife object to the course material because of religious beliefs. “I see everyone’s emotions,” he said. “All people should be respected. We don’t teach hate—everyone should live as they want to live—but as parents we have a right to teach our morals. We don’t want to hurt anyone, but we come from a different point of view. If we’re telling them something in our house and they are telling them something else in school … as parents, we have a right to teach our morals.”

He said, “I don’t think this is the fight it’s become. It can come down a whole lot.”

For some the issue was highly emotional and personal. Ashley Parsons, who said she is an educator and queer, is raising children who openly express their own gender identities. “Just because you want your own children not to be exposed to this material does not mean you can erase who we are,” she said. “We are people here. As an educator, I do not put my views on the children I teach, but I let them discuss it. That’s the point where they need to hear other people’s point of view.”

Jason Wright said, “Kent is a wonderful, complicated puzzle. We’re a tolerant town and I don’t like to see things come up that are not consistent with that.” Former First Selectman Jean Speck expanded on that, saying community life depends on civility. “We hire educational professionals because we trust them. We can have different points of view, but when we come to the table, we have absolute respect for our professionals. We elected the board because they are thoughtful, productive people.”

Rufus P. de Rham, a former high school teacher, said that he had his parents to thank for teaching him the lessons that Project SAGE attempts to impart about inclusion and acceptance. “My grandkids are now learning that. The only way to do that is to discuss healthy relationships with everybody, so we don’t have kids left out and segregated, whether it’s about gender or how to look for help if you’re feeling uncomfortable. Let our kids and grandkids sit in a class and maybe they will get it.”

Barbara Kovacs said she supports the board and administration in most of the curriculum offerings. While she opted her children out, she said she would have liked them to participate in all but the unit on sexuality. “I don’t support talking with seventh graders about sexuality. I feel it’s inappropriate for non-parents to be speaking with children about these topics. It’s a parental responsibility, not the school’s.”

But Ken Cooper reported that his 6-year-old grandson is already talking about the subject, not with teachers, but with students in his first-grade class. “There are all different opinions, but a 6-year-old is engaged in this subject, figuring out who he wants to be. I don’t think this is something we can limit. This is something children are speaking to each other about and we need to be participating in the conversation and letting them know this is a comfortable subject.”

The Board of Education does not, as a matter of policy, respond to public comment during the meeting.

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