Parental Concerns Over Gender Questions Voiced At BOE

Parental Concerns Over Gender Questions Voiced At BOE

Several local parents came before the Cheshire Board of Education on Thursday, March 16, to express concerns relating to questionnaires that were given to students regarding gender identity.

According to their testimony, some elementary school children were asked to select their gender from options that included “gender-fluid” and “non-binary.”

Cheshire Public Schools have been regularly issuing school climate surveys, as required by a 2012 state statute, in order to monitor the presence of bullying in the schools. Like other Connecticut districts, Cheshire maintains an internal anti-bullying policy that incorporates current applicable state and federal laws.

Cheshire schools’ policy defines bullying to include hostile acts and gestures against characteristics including “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.”

The District’s Safe School Climate Committee is composed of administrators, school staff, and parents. Its charge is to “monitor and review mental health and behavioral (actions and consequences) programs and data,” as well as deliver twice-yearly reports on conditions in the schools. Officials say the surveys are one tool in that assessment.

An example of one such survey, conducted at Chapman School in 2020-21 for grades 4 through 6, is available via the Cheshire Public Schools website. A pie chart indicates that 49.2% of the respondents identified as “girl” and 44.1% identified as “boy,” while there were 1.7% identifying as gender-fluid and .8% as non-binary. Approximately 4% preferred not to make a selection.

A similar survey conducted at Doolittle School in grades 1 through 3 that year included only the “Boy,” “Girl” and “Prefer Not To Say” options.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeff Solan explained that “we modified that response for students in 2018-19 knowing that we had students who didn’t identify as either a boy or a girl.”

Solan did note in response to the parents’ statements that there is “significant flexibility” with regard to preparing the questions, but adds that “we ask gender to confirm that students of a particular gender don’t have a negative experience.”

Solan also mentioned that the District is “evaluating the data from the past three surveys to determine if there is any statistical difference in gender responses, particularly at the K-3 (level), to determine if we even need to continue to ask that question moving forward.”

Stephanie Koco, mother of a Chapman second-grader, had several questions for the BOE to consider.

“The biggest question of all is, what happens if the child does have questions? They’re confused by things. Children are curious in nature, especially at such a young age. I understand that most of these children are going to see ‘boy,’ ‘girl,’ click that and move on. But for the ones who are curious and do ask questions, I want to know who’s explaining what non-binary and gender fluid means to these young children and then how they’re explaining it,” Koco stated.

She went on to say that many of her fellow moms were “shocked” and “upset” by the questions, but couldn’t attend the meeting for various reasons.

“This is something that I feel really strong, that parents should be explaining to their children at the time that the parent feels that it’s appropriate,” she continued. “At such a young age, I don’t feel (the selections are) appropriate. Topics like these are confusing to everyone and they’re new and, in my opinion, I just think that it’s not appropriate for the school system to be explaining it to my children.”

Another parent, Olympia Brucato, stated that gender identity conversations “should really be kept between the parent and their child.” Acknowledging the fact that much of the verbiage of the surveys comes from state statutes, Brucato asked the District to “keep the surveys simple” to avoid confusing children.

Susan Zabohonski also addressed the statute in her remarks, citing a section that calls for “grade-level appropriate” questions. She reported hearing from a parent whose third-grader “didn’t know what those words meant,” and asked the teacher to explain, but was told “she couldn’t give any direction, so that student picked one of the ‘funny names’ instead of picking male or female.”

Amy Bourdon, a mother of four, mentioned the possibility of crowd-funded class action lawsuits aimed at resolving some of the questions surrounding the gender issue. “They’re our children, they’re not subjects of the public school system,” she said.

“We guide them through these subjective times in their life and these subjective questions about gender,” she added, drawing a distinction between the concepts of biological sex, gender, and identity.

“The parents and the public and the schools and coaches and everyone in society help to shape the identity of a child. But it should never be done in the absence of a parent’s permission or notification or involvement,” she said. Parents, Bourdon added, felt “left out” when the survey was changed without public input.

“We’re teaching children facts that are not facts. We’re teaching them ideology. We’re confusing them,” Bourdon said.

Solan admitted that his “personal regret is we didn’t send out more information in advance,” but also says, “while many students may not know what the term ‘non-binary’ is, those who identify that way are validated by the fact that the term is on the survey.”


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