The Elk Grove school board on Feb. 5 unanimously approved new history and social science textbooks for the 2019-20 school year.
Their vote drew cheers and jeers from the crowded board room. One attendee yelled, “Shame on you.”
These books, written for grades K-8, sparked opposition from several parents and activists since they contain chapters on historical Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) figures. They argued that elementary school students are too young to learn about such figures.
In contrast, supporters called for a more inclusive curriculum that reflects American society’s diversity.
“We all better get with the program and treat people right in moving forward and doing the right thing,” Board President Chet Madison said before the board vote.
The board approved McGraw-Hill Education’s textbooks, which were recommended by a district steering committee. These books contain information on LGBT individuals such as gay rights leader Harvey Milk, talk show host Ellen Degeneres, and astronaut Sally Ride.
Elk Grove school district staff last year started a review process for proposed textbooks since the district’s current history and social science books, adopted in 2007, contained outdated information as well as pages worn-out from years of use.
They also wanted books that met California state standards, which call for textbooks that “accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of our society,” according to a district staff report.
California’s FAIR Education Act went into effect in 2012 and prescribed history textbooks in public schools to have information on LGBT figures as well as historical contributions from several races and ethnicities.
Textbooks from different publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and National Geographic were proposed to the Elk Grove school district last year. Principals, parent advisors, and more than 84 elementary school teachers reviewed the books.
Community members were also invited last fall to preview the textbooks at the district’s Trigg Education Center.
The California Family Council, a conservative activist group, drew public and media attention at the preview sessions when they objected to the textbooks’ coverage of LGBT figures in elementary school textbooks. They argued that teachers cannot speak of such individuals without addressing sex, which is inappropriate for elementary students.
Members last month shared a page from Harvey Milk’s biography that details his relationship with an underage boy. They said that he would have never been hired by the school district due to that act.
Greg Burt, the council’s capitol engagement director, told the school board they risked creating a divide in schools and the community at large if they adopt the textbooks.
“It’s going to create a wedge between parents and administrators, between children and their parents, between students of different faiths and perspectives,” he said. “You don’t have the power to indoctrinate students to believe the way you do.”
Trustees on Feb. 5 spent an hour listening to supporters and protestors before they voted.
Some opponents said that the curriculum conflicts with their religious beliefs on gender and sexuality.
Sue Spillman, an elementary school educator, told the trustees that school districts are supposed to reflect the local community.
“(The proposed curriculum) undermines the values that we Christians and conservatives are teaching our children,” she said, adding that the McGraw-Hill textbooks “normalize” homosexuality and transgenderism.
Supporters said that the proposed curriculum is valuable for LGBT students who feel rejected.
Graham Stewart, a teacher and a parent of a transgender child, said that transgender students are 11 times more likely to contemplate suicide.
“(The curriculum) helps other students see that LGBT people exist in society and are not monsters or freaks, but rather citizens who positively contribute to society’s well-being.”
Nicholas Bua, an openly gay teacher at Monterey Trail High School, spoke to the school board about his struggles growing up. He told them that schools should not have an “opt-out” policy to allow parents to not have their children participate in lessons that address LGBT figures.
The teacher’s suggestion drew jeers from several audience members.
“Every student that does not participate in the same learning or is not educated is a part of the ignorance that causes the same systematic issues to persist,” Bua said.
District spokesperson Xanthi Pinkerton told the Citizen that the district currently lacks an opt-out policy for history and social science textbooks.
During the board deliberations, the trustees said they made their decisions after carefully reviewing public feedback.
Trustee Nancy Chaires-Esponoza said that many opponents had inaccurate information about the textbooks.
“There is no advocacy here,” she said about the textbooks. “There is nothing that says that one religion’s view is right and the other is wrong…parents remain the most important educators of their children.”
Singh-Allen, an observant Sikh, praised the textbooks for including material on Sikhs. She mentioned the unsolved 2011 murders of two elderly Sikhs in Elk Grove, and said that Sikhs still encounter racism and bullying.
“I hope for a day when children would see Sikhs in their textbooks, that day is today,” Singh-Allen said.
She also declared herself to be an “advocate for the LGBT community” before she voted. Last month, she mentioned at a board meeting that she has a family member who identifies as gay.
“Seeing yourself in textbooks remind you that you’re loved, you’re valued, you’re seen,” Singh-Allen told the audience. “The time is always right to do what is right; the time is right, the time is today.”