Why isn’t Maine’s preferred K-12 gender identity curriculum more accessible to parents?

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In the aftermath of widespread pandemic-era learning disruptions, many parents and community members are seeking more information on what is being taught in Maine’s classrooms. While the administration of Maine Gov. Janet Mills maintains distance from the actions of school boards and teachers, several recent developments highlight the extent to which the state government has sanctioned potentially controversial lesson plans.

During the era of remote learning over the 2020-21 school year, the Mills administration and the Maine Department of Education (DOE) commissioned online learning modules to facilitate the sharing of curricula around the state. A lesson plan celebrating “LBGT Activism” was published by a local kindergarten teacher, for which she was paid $1,000 by the Maine DOE to produce. In the video, the teacher defined a transgender person as someone whose “doctor guessed wrong” when they were born.

This lesson was created for kindergarteners. At best, it was an oversimplification of a complex issue (especially for five-year-olds). At worst, it was state-sponsored medical disinformation. Many weeks after the video lesson was publicly exposed, and only after the Maine Republican Party began to run public advertisements attacking the governor for the lesson plan, did the Maine DOE schedule a review of the modules and eventually remove that particular video from the state website. Mills’ spokesperson said that the governor was not aware of the lesson but agreed with the DOE’s decision.

Following the removal of the video, proponents called for more focus on LGBTQ curriculum for younger students. Absent statewide standards to that effect, Maine DOE recommends educators use OUT Maine curriculum, containing potentially age-inappropriate LGBTQ-centered lesson plans for the state’s youngest students. Educators may use it in their classroom if they choose, but parents are not the intended recipients of the materials. OUT Maine’s website requires those who request the materials to be an employee of a public school system to download them.

OUT Maine is a nonprofit with a mission “to create more welcoming and affirming communities for Maine’s diverse queer youth in all of their intersectional identities.” Other interest groups, such as the Gay Straight Trans Alliance (GSTA) and Learning Tolerance, helped produce lessons compatible with Maine’s Learning Results standards.

Recognizing that queer—especially transgender—youth face higher rates of bullying, suicide, and depression, it is no doubt an honorable goal to make sure these, and all students, feel safe and welcome in their classrooms.

While a comprehensive review is not yet complete, the OUT Maine curriculum may be an important part of achieving this mission. But, since the lessons specifically touch on gender identity and sexual orientation, some Maine parents may find them inappropriate for their young children.

Lessons on “proper” pronoun usage, like They, She, He easy as ABC may be more confusing than enlightening for the kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders for whom they are created. Indeed, some proponents of this gender-centered ideology embrace the fact that LGBTQ+ identity is a broad spectrum, and that many more genders (and pronouns) exist or have yet to be created. This lesson in particular seems exceedingly complex for these young students still grasping the many difficulties of the English language, to say nothing of the constantly shifting cultural conversation around gender identity, one which even many adults have yet to understand. 

Some parents might rather opt to expose their children to these topics in a setting where they can set the pace of the conversation. Maine law allows parents to choose if their children will receive public sex education, which includes strategies for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Local school boards set curriculum, but this topic is not usually broached until students have reached puberty. 

Maine parents should be fully aware of the type of gender- and sex-based lessons being taught to their children, whether state-sponsored or not. Yet, OUT Maine asks anyone requesting the materials to be employed in the public education system, essentially hidden from parents. A parent who wishes to review the curricula and is not employed by a school must lie while filling out the form on OUT Maine’s website to access the learning materials potentially being taught at their child’s school. 

It is unclear how many K-2 students have received OUT Maine-developed lessons, due to the locally directed nature of education. But if the Maine DOE offers the materials on its website as a resource for educators, shouldn’t Maine parents be able to easily access them too?

Mainers deserve full transparency from public agencies, even and especially from their local schools. Governor Mills and DOE Commissioner Pender Makin should order a full review of all curricula sponsored by the state regarding sex or gender and make it public instead of allowing these lessons to be hidden from parents.

Photo: Maine Department of Education logo

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