EducationPoliticsPublic SchoolFairbanks School District gets pushback on LGBTQ curriculum

A group working on a curriculum overhaul that would expose students in Fairbanks to controversial sexual ideologies in English and social studies classes held a meeting on Nov. 7. A significant part of the discussion centered on pushback the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has received regarding plans to introduce LGTBQ course materials. The Curriculum Advisory Committee is revising the 7-12 grade English/Language Arts and K-12 grade social studies classes. According to the school...
Joel Davidson Joel Davidson3 months ago164111 min

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A group working on a curriculum overhaul that would expose students in Fairbanks to controversial sexual ideologies in English and social studies classes held a meeting on Nov. 7. A significant part of the discussion centered on pushback the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has received regarding plans to introduce LGTBQ course materials.

The Curriculum Advisory Committee is revising the 7-12 grade English/Language Arts and K-12 grade social studies classes. According to the school district’s website, the new material includes “LGBTQ+ Literature” for 11-12th grade students. The elective class would fulfill part of the English requirement for graduation. Proposed readings include highly controversial novels and poems that have been criticized for sexual explicitness, explicit language, sexual violence and scenes of homosexual sex.

A second class for 10-11th grade students would fulfill a social studies requirement. This course includes an option that frames the LGBTQ agenda in terms of the historic civil rights struggles of African Americans and women.

“Those of us on the committee, we look at it and sometimes we’re like what’s the big deal…”

‘WE’VE HAD A LOT OF FEEDBACK’

Melanie Hadaway, the school district’s executive director of teaching and learning, told the curriculum committee that the LGBTQ material has drawn significant comments from the public. She referenced an Alaska Watchman article on the proposed changes.

“An online magazine or newspaper called the Alaska Watchman featured an article about the Fairbanks curriculum process,” she said during the Nov. 7 meeting in Fairbanks. “So, we’ve had a lot of feedback over that particular course.”

“It will be interesting because usually we don’t get hardly any notice on a first draft,” she added. “So, we’ll see where it all ends up, but that is why that issue has come up so repeatedly.”

Hadaway said all community comments will be sent to the curriculum writing teams.

“We’ll look at that feedback and we’ll see what happens in a second draft,” she said, which should be available by January 9.

Curriculum Committee member Earl Peterson said it was “good to see that the issue raised by the Watchman was at least touched on tonight.”

He added that the school board, which will ultimately approve or deny the proposed curriculum, is aware of community concerns being raised.

“That is going to be on the minds of the school board when they consider our recommendations,” he said.

‘WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL’

Some committee members voiced dismay over the Watchman report and the ensuing community criticisms of the LGBTQ curriculum.

“We have the best of intentions and we are doing what’s great and then people look at just small segments of what we do and they take them out of context,” committee member Patrick Frymark complained. “Those of us on the committee, we look at it and sometimes we’re like what’s the big deal, because we can see the whole thing.”

Rather than address specific concerns, Frymark bemoaned the way the Watchman article “packaged” the story.

“When things go viral on Facebook, when thing are taken out of context, and published in some wingnut publication, it can really change people’s feelings about something,” he said.

Despite community pushback, Wilkin said she thinks “this committee is doing a great job.”

Frymark floated the idea that perhaps the district needs to do a better job of selling its ideas to the public.

“Maybe we need to be better about messaging up front,” he said. “I don’t know. Can you even anticipate what’s going to set people off?”

Fellow committee member Sue Wilkin shared Frymark’s concern about “context,” but again without ever addressing the actual substance of criticisms from those who oppose the district’s plans.

“So many things are taken out of context,” she said. “It’s the inflection and just the kind of innuendo of how people are saying things with an accent on certain things. And when it comes to Facebook it’s gotten to the point where people who I thought were just really very well educated and caring people, you know just put stuff out like they are talking to their best friend.”

Despite community pushback, Wilkin said she thinks “this committee is doing a great job.”

Hadaway told the committee she notified teachers about the Watchman article.

“I sent the teachers an email that said if you get an email, know this happened,” Hadaway said. “I should have probably sent one to you guys as well. So that if you are ever contacted or you have questions you are welcome to refer them back to me or our public relations.”

Hadaway advised committee members to let the public know that the curriculum overhaul is a “process.”

“Whether we agree or disagree we really do this as a public process,” she said. “So really encourage people to know this is a process. This was a first draft, you know, and our school board and our revisers and this group listens to people.”

According to Hadaway, the district hopes to have a finalized curriculum for the school board’s consideration by March. That may not happen, she said, especially if public comments and the revision process takes longer than expected.

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Joel Davidson

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