Children’s books on gender identity spark discussion in Solana Beach school district

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This spring, the Gender Nation organization donated a set of 15 elementary-age books to the seven school libraries in the Solana Beach School District. The nationwide organization specializes in providing children with access to “uplifting and inclusive stories that demonstrate the full spectrum of sexuality and gender identity.” The books focus on self-acceptance themes with an emphasis on those who may not conform to gender norms and / or those whose gender does not match the biological sex assigned at birth.

Solana Beach School District Superintendent Jodie Brentlinger sent a message to all families in the district on November 5, informing them that the board will discuss accepting book donations at the board meeting on November 18. All of the books were available for parents to preview on their school websites from November 9 to 18.

Since the book donations were made public, the board has heard a variety of opinions, both for and against the books being on the school shelves.

In public comments at the Nov. 18 board meeting, Skyline School sixth-grader Hudson Fleming said books offer a way to educate those outside of the LGBTQIA + community and to do so that students who feel more accepted in the school environment.

“I know what it feels like to not be represented enough,” said Hudson. “These books have a chance to make the school environment happier, healthier and more inclusive for all students.”

Others called for the district to reject Gender Nation donations, saying the books introduce a potentially confusing transgender ideology, that elementary school students are too young to be exposed to sex and gender and that they are topics that should be left to be discussed at home by parents, and not taught to their children at school.

“I’m almost speechless as to how these books with nuances of sex can be equated with teaching kindness and inclusion,” said Jackie Combs, parent of Skyline and Solana Vista.

At the November 18 meeting, Brentlinger announced that she would withdraw the item from the agenda. Brentlinger recommended that the council organize a special workshop to study council policies and regulations particularly around the selection of educational materials and the role of elected officials in this process. She said the book donations would then be reported to the board for a “more guided and informed discussion.”

The workshop has not yet been scheduled – the next regular board meeting is December 9.

Viyan Stanko, a district school psychologist and chair of the district social justice and equity committee, said she believes the books are age and content appropriate and comply with both the Fair Education Act under the California Ed Code and the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DCI) board policy enacted in June 2021. DCI’s policy was itself controversial – with many parents worried that the policy would echoes the principles of critical race theory, compromises academics, confuses the sexes and creates more division than unity.

Stanko said the donated books discussed the inclusion of individuals and families who choose not to conform to gender or “traditional” norms, such as “Pride,” which tells the story of politician Harvey Milk, and ” And Tango Makes Three ”, the true story of two male penguins who managed to raise an egg.

“The majority of the other books included in this gift are articulate and creative in explaining that everyone is free to be whoever they want,” Stanko. “Books tell stories to teach acceptance, not judging others, being true to yourself, and persevering in the face of an obstacle. It’s about loving yourself. They have nothing to do with sexual preference or point of view orientation.

Gini Mann-Deibert, art teacher at Solana Ranch, said she knew she was different in second grade but didn’t have the language for it and hid it for years because she did not feel safe at school. She said she can only imagine what it would have meant for her eight-year-old to have been exposed to a book like “Angie’s Plaid Shirt” about a girl who feels weird in dresses.

“We can help build resilience in elementary schools through something as simple as having a book that shows they exist,” said Mann-Deibert, who is a board member of the San Diego chapter of GLSEN, a national organization that fights for every student. right to a safe and united education.

In her comments, parent Neha Khetan commented on how it could be a gift for a child to find refuge in a book that represents them, tells their stories, answers questions and helps them communicate when they are not. not the words.

Some parents were concerned that books would expose children to inappropriate sexual content.

Several parents referred to Alex Gino’s book “George”, pointing out that it was the number one contested book in the country in 2020, according to the American Library Association. Every year since 2016, the book has been among the top 10 most contested and restricted books for its LGBTQIA + themes, in conflict with a religious point of view and “not reflecting the values ​​of our community”. The novel for ages 8 to 12 tells the story of a transgender fourth grader.

Parent Emeri Daines said “George” includes adult material that has no place in any elementary school library. She said on a page, the book
discusses pornography: “He’s my little brother, growing up and looking at dirty magazines,” one character says.

“I am appalled to even have to say this to a school board charged with protecting and educating our elementary-age children,” Daines said. “This book insidiously normalizes the use of child pornography.”

Parent Diana Baldwin said she supports opportunities to share different perspectives, but it should be done in a way that honors students and parents and should not affirm or disavow worldviews, religious doctrine or political opinion.

In her comments, Solana Beach Teachers’ Association co-chair Neva Ayn Magalnick said teachers often use books to start class discussions, to end a difficult social interaction that has occurred in school or to share new perspectives: “It would be difficult to justify banning a book called ‘It’s good to be different,’ she said.

Magalnick said she was disappointed that books that reinforce the fundamentals of celebrating differences, empathy and acceptance were given close scrutiny.

“For those whose experiences are reflected in these books, I hope these books give them a sense of belonging and the courage to be who they are,” she said.

The donation of books from two other groups will also be considered by the board of directors: The Conscious Kid donated 10 books to the Solana Vista school library and the local Girl Scout troop 4524 also donated approximately 60 eco-friendly books at the Solana Ranch School Library to provide curatorial resources for the school’s EnviroHawks student club.


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