The Alameda Unified School District in California has adopted a new curriculum called “Safe Schools,” which aims to teach elementary school students respect for gay and lesbian families and peers.
The school board passed the curriculum 3-2 on May 26, and approved new yearly lessons that will be added to it, beginning with the introductory “Grade K Welcoming” lesson and working up to a lesson on stereotypes in the fifth grade. In each grade, students will learn about different aspects of LGBT life and LGBT families, and about the importance of being an ally to the community. Students will discuss what defines a family and read articles written by a boy with two mothers.
In addition to the specific lessons, teachers will also acquaint their students with a list of famous LGBT people, which includes Walt Whitman, Harvey Milk and Ellen DeGeneres, and teach them to use inclusive vocabulary.
In order to make its decision, the board listened to public commentary over two of its meetings. A 16-year-old gay student, Brian Harris, recounted that he had almost decided to “just give up on life” after his peers called him derogatory names at school.
“I believe that the safe school curriculum is necessary to stop other students from having to go through the torture I went through for my sexual orientation,” Harris said.
Not everyone is pleased with the board’s decision, however. Some parents are angered that they will not be allowed to opt out of the curriculum. Others are upset their children will be reading material like “And Tango Makes Three,” a story about two male penguins who hatch an egg and raise the baby penguin together.
Trish Spencer, one of two board members who voted against the curriculum, said she believes the new curriculum will “increase harassment” against some religious groups.
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, superintendent Kirsten Vital acknowledged that the new curriculum will not be a cure-all for students who are harassed, but she believes it is a start.
“We need to do a better job as a school district, but you don’t take away from one group to support another,” Vital said. “We need to give tools to our teachers; we need to follow through and support them.”