At a raucous school board meeting Wednesday night, nearly 100 parents expressed their frustration and anger over how the Windham Raymond School System is handling parental concerns about sexually explicit books, intrusive student surveys, and gender identity programming.
At issue were several books that contain written and/or illustrated depictions of children engaged in various sexually acts, as well as surveys — from both the school and student-led groups — that ask children as young as 6th grade personal questions about their sex lives.
Multiple parents said the school’s recent focus on gender and sexuality had come amid a downward trend in the performance of students on standardized tests.
One Windham mom raised concerns about how programs led by the school’s “Civil Rights Team” around the topic of gender identity and sexuality had caused harassment within the school.
Kristen Day said students affiliated with one of RSU 14’s Civil Rights Teams harassed her daughter. When her daughter refused to speak about her sexuality, two students affiliated with the club began to bully her and call her homophobic.
“They insisted she was gay because she dressed gay and listened to gay music,” Day said of her daughter, who was a 7th grader at the time of the alleged harassment.
“She was then called homophobic because she wasn’t at least bi,” Day said.
“She’s not political, but she does not want to talk about her sexuality in school,” she said.
[RELATED: Maine’s High School Students Are Far More Likely Than Peers to Identify as LGBT. Why?…]
Civil Rights Teams (CRTs) operate in Maine schools as a project of the Maine Attorney General’s Office, and the nominal goal of the student organizations is to reduce “bias-motivated” bullying and harassment in schools.
Day said her daughter was harassed about her sexuality by students affiliated with the school’s CRT under the pretext of opening a discussion about student sexuality.
CRT members also created surveys for their peers to take with questions about sexuality and gender, and they pressured them to don “pronoun” pins, Day said.
In an email, Windham Superintendent Christopher Howell said school administrators were not aware of the kind of peer pressure or bullying Day’s daughter said she faced as a result of CRT activities.
“In short, the focus of [Civil Rights] teams is on helping to create a safe school environment for all,” said Howell.
“We are not aware of the Civil Rights Team being involved in the situation you’re referring to,” he said.
According to Day, who has had multiple kids go through the school district, the role of left-wing curriculum and programming in the schools has increased noticeably over the past three years.
“I’ve witnessed the dramatic change in our schools first hand,” she said. “It took over every aspect of this school for three years.”
Day also claimed that one of her daughter’s male teachers told the classroom on at least two occasions that he was uncircumcised, an event she said was the predictable consequence of school employees increasingly blurring public-private boundaries between.
Asked about this claim from Day, Howell said, “you have been misinformed,” but added, “I cannot speak to specific matters that involve employees.”
Day was just one of the parents who leveled fiery complaints against the Windham and Raymond schools’ recent decision to focus more time and resources on sex, sexuality, and gender.
Most of the parents took aim at pornographic library books like Gender Queer, a popular LGBT-themed book that includes cartoon images of children having sex.
Gender Queer featured prominently into the gubernatorial campaign between Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, with outside conservative groups running high-profile ad campaigns tying Democrats to the books availability in schools.
Amid conservative outcry, Gender Queer has become something of a cause célèbre, with left-wing activists raising money to purchase copies of the book for public libraries and advocating for getting the book into the hands of young children.
Adam Zajac, whose son recently shook the community by reading from a different explicit book during a school board meeting, brought yet another book to the school board’s attention.
Zajac claimed that the book had secretly been removed from the school’s library amid heightened scrutiny of potentially inappropriate material the school’s librarian had made available to minor students.
[RELATED: 6th Grader Reads from Lurid Library Book at Windham Middle School…]
“‘Identical‘ … the story of two seven-year-old twins that are sexually assaulted by their father. Multiple times,” he said, before reading a lurid section of the book in which the fictional father engages in a brutal sexual assault of a child.
“This is the shit that we have going into our libraries and you’re complaining about anti-LGBTQ?” said Zajac.
“I’ve been attacked all week … because I’m sticking up for my children,” he said. “This is absolutely ridiculous.”
Debate over the role pornographic books should play in grade schools has trickled up into the State Legislature, where lawmakers will soon debate a bill from Sen. James Libby (R-Cumberland) that would create a formal process for removing obscene materials from classrooms.
An array of liberal groups, including the Maine Civil Liberties Union, have publicly opposed the bill.
[RELATED: Liberal Groups Fight to Keep Obscene Materials in Schools…]
Some parents questioned the propriety, and legality, of surveys that asked personal questions about children’s sexuality.
Steven Napolitano raised his concerns about the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey (MIYHS), which is a biennial survey that asks hundreds of questions of high school and middle school students.
The questions ask students, including as young as 6th grade, about drug use, sexual intercourse, the first time they engaged in oral sex, and the number of sexual partners they’ve had, he said.
“How do these survey questions support the approved RSU 14 curriculum? Where’s the data going? You won’t even share that with us,” he said. “You say it’s not traced, but they’re taking them on a computer with an IP Address that tracks it.”
“Stay in your lane, school,” he said. “And let parents parent.”
An analysis by the Maine Wire of MIYHS data showed that Maine’s high school students are far more likely than their peers in other New England schools to identify as non-heterosexual or non-cisgender, and rates of LGBT identifications among high schoolers have increased sharply in recent years, driven primarily by young women who say they are bisexual.
In her public comments at the meeting, Rep. Barbara Bagshaw (R-Windham) called out Drummond Woodsum, a left-wing Portland-based law firm that has contracts with multiple Maine schools.
She said the firm has played an outsized role in writing radical school policies and limiting parental involvement in school board meetings.
“I have watched the parents come before you for three years asking you to listen to their concerns,” Bagshaw told the school board,”and it seems like Drummond Woodsum is running these schools.”
“You’re listening to the parents, but you’re not hearing them,” she said. “They feel like they’re being shut out.”
“Our test scores are in the dumper,” she said. “We need to focus on education.”
Not everyone at the meeting wanted to remove books containing images of children having sex from the school library, and one man equated complaints about the sexualized materials to German Nazi’s burning books.
Several speakers accused other parents of only opposing sexually explicit books in schools because they are anti-gay bigots.
“This isn’t how you care about kids,” said former Windham student Jake Fuller. “You just care about your bigoted ideas and ignorances.”
At the same time parents have witnessed the Windham schools emphasize gender ideology, diversity, equity, and inclusion, students’ performance on standardized math and reading exams has declined.
According to student data available from the Maine Department of Education (MDE), less than half of all RSU 14 8th graders were proficient at math and reading in 2019.
Getting accurate data on how far test scores have dropped in Maine schools since 2019 is difficult thanks to changes MDE made to assessments.
Those changes — allegedly made by the MDE because of the COVID-19 pandemic — mean it’s difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison with year-over-year test score data. Because of those changes, the federal Department of Education has threatened to withdraw Title I funding from Maine’s schools.