Some parents question books about gender identity at Mount Vernon elementary – The Gazette: Eastern Iowa Breaking News and Headlines

Lesson plans intended to help pupils better understand themselves and respect diversity have caused a stir at Mount Vernon’s Washington Elementary School.

There, some parents are questioning whether sexual and gender identity issues should be introduced at school by teachers rather than at home by parents.

After schoolchildren were sent home with reading lists that include books on transgender kids and same-sex parents, several parents took up the issue this week at a school board meeting — some saying the topics are not appropriate for that age group, while others said the inclusion of the curriculum is an important step in preventing bullying.

“I was very surprised that by reading these books, the school is taking an outspoken stance on gender identity,” said Brittany Brannaman, who has a daughter in first grade there. “I believe the school should not be condoning this very specific behavior by reading books that clearly have an agenda. By default, the school is clearly endorsing that view.”

Some other parents and teachers, however, expressed support, saying it’s valuable to begin teaching children about tough issues early on.

“I have read some of those books to my two- and five-year-old without any sort of consequence,” said Megan Jones, who has a child in kindergarten at the school. “By removing these books and curriculum … it would signal to LGBT children and families that it’s OK to be different here, just don’t talk about it.”

According to a school memo, Washington pupils are learning more about diversity this month. A reading list was provided for kindergarten through fourth grade students during guidance class, taught once a week by the school counselor.

Heidi Hassen, who teaches the classes and picked the books, said it’s necessary to include discussion about all types of students to prevent bullying.

“Schools are charged with dealing with harassment and bullying behavior and creating safe environments for all students,” she said. “What we have learned is that gender-identity based harassment and bullying is very common in elementary school, so we felt that when talking about respect, we should include all.”

The reading list at the kindergarten level includes “My Princess Boy” by Cheryl Kilodavis, a picture book about a boy who wears both dresses and jeans and likes to climb trees while wearing a tiara. On the book jacket, the author said she “wrote the story to give children and adults a tool to talk about unconditional friendship.”

A picture book included at the third and fourth grade levels is “I Am Jazz,” which is based on the real story of Jazz Jennings, a transgender girl born a boy.

While such books have led to controversy at some other school districts where they have been introduced — including in Maine and Ohio — the lessons have the support of Mount Vernon Community School District Superintendent Gary O’Malley.

The literature encourages acceptance among young children from different backgrounds, he said. The books are in line with recommendations from the American School Counselor Association, he said.

After speakers addressed the school board on the issue Monday, the board took no action.

“The important thing is that every parent needed to be heard, and we need to reassure our parents that the trust that they have with us in the selection of material is justified,” O’Malley said.

Parents can opt out of having their children in the program, O’Malley said, but he hopes they don’t. Pupils who opt out would study in the library instead.

The next school board meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 9 but it’s unclear yet if the issue will be on the agenda for discussion, said School Board President Lori Merlak.