On Thursday, April 13, 2023, the Arlington School Committee will hold a hearing in response to a formal complaint about the district’s Grade 4 & 5 Human Growth & Development curriculum that has been filed by an Arlington resident. The resident objects to the fact that the curriculum is gender inclusive.
To see the Arlington School District’s February 9, 2023 presentation to parents about the updated Grade 4 & 5 Human Growth & Development curriculum, please click here.
Below is the testimony that the Rainbow Commission submitted to the School Committee in support of the Grade 4 & 5 Human Growth & Development curriculum.
Dear School Committee Chair Kirsi Allison-Ampe and Committee members Liz Exton, Laura Gitelson, Len Kardon, Jane Morgan, Paul Schlichtman, and Jeff Thielman:
Thank you for your on-going support of LGBTQIA+ students and families, caregivers, faculty, staff, and administrators. Your appointment of a liaison to the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission led directly to the creation of the district’s LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Leadership Task Force. Over the past two years, the Task Force has advanced important equity initiatives to ensure Arlington schools continue to create safe, inclusive learning environments for LGBTQIA+ students.
We are writing to urge you to forcefully reject attempts by some Arlington residents to erase gender inclusivity from the district’s Grade 4 & 5 Human Growth & Development curriculum. We know that Arlington is home to many LGBTQIA+ individuals and families, including transgender and gender diverse children. The request to remove gender inclusivity from the curriculum is tantamount to erasing the existence of those very children from our schools and our community.
The district’s strategic vision is rooted in equity and belonging with a commitment to be “an equitable educational community where all learners feel a sense of belonging, experience growth and joy, and are empowered to shape their own futures and contribute to a better world.” Removing gender inclusivity from the curriculum would be in direct contradiction to that vision.
Further, we already know that gender diverse youth in Arlington schools are suffering and their needs must be addressed.
During your March 30 meeting, the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Leadership Task Force presented alarming data from the 2021 Middlesex League Youth Behavioral Health Survey. Almost one-third of Arlington High School students surveyed reported that their mental health was not good most of the time or always. Of the student subgroups, 33 percent of White students, 29 percent of multiracial students, 26 percent of Asian students, and 25 percent of Black students reported that their mental health was not good most of the time or always. By contrast, a staggering 67 percent of genderqueer students reported the same.
Similar disparities can be found for questions among middle and high school students reporting how likely students feel close to other people at school, how likely they are to suffer from depression, plan for and attempt suicide (especially at the middle school level), and how likely they are to experience electronic bullying.
Although the Middlesex League survey did not measure whether racial disparities in outcomes were present among genderqueer youth, other surveys of LGBTQIA+ youth in the Greater Boston area have found significant racial disparities in health and wellness. A 2015 survey of LGBTQIA+ youth found that 40 percent of BIPOC LGBTQIA+ youth reported symptoms of depression and/or anxiety and nearly one in five had attempted suicide within the prior 12 months.
While your April 13 hearing will be rightly focused on the gender inclusivity of the district’s Grade 4 & 5 Human Growth & Development curriculum, it is vital that you understand the harm that will be done as discussion of this curriculum challenge moves from the School Committee to the broader public.
A growing body of research shows that public debate about the rights of people who have been marginalized can significantly harm their mental health. A 2021 study found that exposure to negative depictions of transgender people in the media was significantly associated with clinical symptoms of depression, anxiety, global psychological distress, and post-traumatic stress disorder in this population. The association held even after adjustments were made for variables such as age, race, income, and reported experiences of childhood and/or adult sexual or physical abuse. Alarmingly, this suggests that anti-transgender propaganda on its own may independently harm the mental health of transgender people.
The most effective way for members of the Arlington School Committee to mitigate this harm is to assertively and publicly reject the challenge to Arlington’s gender inclusive Human Growth & Development curriculum.
It is critical that all Arlington students know that the School Committee will prioritize and protect their safety and sense of inclusion and belonging in our schools.
It is equally critical that the School Committee demonstrate to all residents of Arlington that people who come forward with bigotry cloaked as “parental questions and concerns” will not be indulged.
Today the challenge is related to gender inclusivity. Tomorrow it will be about racial equity. And the day after that it will be something else altogether.
Please re-commit to supporting the district’s LGBTQIA+ youth with a forceful rejection of this challenge to the district’s gender inclusive Human Growth & Development curriculum.
Helene Newberg and Susan Ryan-Vollmar
Co-chairs of Arlington’s LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission, on behalf of all Commissioners