Hoping to avoid distractions in the wake of last week’s uproar over a first-grade lesson plan, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board has delayed a public hearing on a diversity policy that adds LGBT issues.
At its March 14 meeting, the school board introduced a revised multicultural education policy that adds gender identity/expression and sexual orientation to the list of diversity factors that will be incorporated into curriculum and staff training. That meant it was due to come up for a public hearing March 28.
But after confusion and consternation broke out last week over a first-grade lesson plan based on the picture book “Jacob’s New Dress,” the board delayed action on the multicultural education policy. That means there will be no opportunity to speak about LGBT issues Tuesday, either in protest or support of the district’s approach.
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The meeting includes reports on criteria for possible boundary changes and restructuring of eight combined elementary/middle schools that were created during the recession. Both are part of an ongoing student assignment review that has sparked hope and anxiety throughout the county, as people watch to see whether CMS can improve academic options and break up concentrations of poverty without undermining successful schools.
Vice Chair Elyse Dashew said board leaders decided they didn’t want the LGBT controversy to become a distraction: “We need to be able to focus and do our best thinking on the student assignment and preK-8 conversations.”
She did not know when the multicultural policy would be brought up for a hearing and vote.
When news of the “Jacob’s New Dress” lesson plan broke last week, the North Carolina Values Coalition emailed supporters urging them to donate to the group and contact CMS board members to protest what the group called an effort “to push an LGBT ideology on children as young as first grade.”
The school board had seen one meeting dominated by protests over LGBT issues in August, after Superintendent Ann Clark announced new anti-bullying regulations that covered how transgender students would be treated. A hearing on the multicultural policy would have opened that door on Tuesday.
The next opportunity for comments on any CMS issue will be April 6 (an unusual date because spring break is the following week). Tuesday’s comments will be limited to public hearings on specific policy changes on the agenda, none of which are controversial.
The delay on the diversity regulations is unlikely to have any big impact on classrooms. Clark says the revisions are just part of a broad effort to update policies before a staffer who specializes in policy-writing retires this summer. The addition of language about sexual orientation and gender expression simply reflects today’s reality, Clark said.
Last week, when state legislators voiced concerns after hearing about the “Jacob’s New Dress” lesson from one or more teachers, even CMS leaders were confused about the origin of the lesson. It turned out to be part of an agreement with the federal Office of Civil Rights, which requires CMS to do more to address concerns about sexual harassment and sexual assault. That settlement requires annual lessons for each grade level to increase awareness of “sexual and gender-based harassment.”
This would have been the first of those annual lessons. Clark said her staff is reviewing the proposed plans for all grade levels in the wake of last week’s controversy.