Wisconsin districts face backlash over plans to teach gender identity to elementary students


Parents are appealing the Superior School District’s decision to reject a complaint filed about the curriculum

Some Wisconsin school districts are facing pushback over their plans to teach elementary school kids about gender identity.

On Aug. 3, a group of 30 parents filed an appeal with the Superior School District after District Administrator Amy Starzecki rejected their complaint about gender identity being taught to fifth graders. They argue the lesson plan within the district’s human growth and development curriculum isn’t age appropriate and fails to meet the district’s own standards for teaching controversial issues.

The parents want the Superior School Board to suspend and review that part of the curriculum put forth this spring, as well as allow parents to opt into it. Under state law, no students are required to take any such instruction, but parents must opt out by filing a written request that their student be exempted from the curriculum.

At a Monday meeting, dozens of educators, parents and students urged the school board to keep the curriculum in place. Ryan Haroldson, principal of Great Lakes Elementary School, said preventing instruction of gender identity wouldn’t keep students from talking about it.

“This makes it imperative that we have professional educators present age-appropriate information on the topic of gender identity, dispel misconceptions, and promote inclusive environments for all students, including our LGBTQ students,” said Haroldson.

Heidi Sigfrids, an administrator at Superior High School and former counselor, said she has witnessed the negative impacts of students not feeling safe or represented in their schools.

“Often children who are experiencing gender identity issues are more likely to experience mental health episodes, including suicidal thinking or attempts,” said Sigfrids.

One 2020 study found 82 percent of transgender individuals have thought about taking their own lives while 40 percent have attempted suicide with the highest risk occurring among transgender youth. Other research suggests LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers.

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