Any time a Charlotte government body takes up a policy involving LGBTQ issues, things get contentious.
This was true in 2016 as the city discussed a nondiscrimination ordinance that would allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender identity.
And it was true again Tuesday night as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board held a public hearing to discuss a policy change that would strengthen support for LGBTQ students and add to the curriculum around gender identity and expression.
Here’s what’s going on.
What was the school board actually considering?
The school board was considering a change to its “multiculturalism” policy that defines the district’s commitment to diversity and providing equal education for all.
The policy then goes a step further in saying CMS will include “multicultural education” in its curriculum and instruction. This means that teachers must discuss issues pertaining to all of the classes of people defined in the policy.
The policy originally included the following:
- National origin
The updated policy would add the following to that list:
- Gender identity/expression
- Sexual orientation
- Linguistics or language differences
- Physical, cognitive, social and environmental abilities
- Socioeconomic status
- “Other characteristics that make members of the school community unique”
The policy changes also strengthen the language about how diversity and multiculturalism will be taught in classrooms.
The original version: “Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will acknowledge and appreciate the value of diversity throughout the curriculum, instruction, and staff development.”
The new version: “Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will acknowledge and support multiculturalism by intentionally incorporating diversity throughout the curriculum, instruction, and professional development.”
The policy has been discussed since last year, though it was tabled while the school board went through the student assignment process.
The school board first held a public hearing on the changes, where members of the community were allowed to speak to the board.
Then the board voted on the changes.
What was the debate about?
As you might guess, the debate was around the “gender identity/expression” and “sexual orientation” aspects of the policy proposal.
There were two distinct sides.
One group — in favor of the policy changes — focused on the first part of the multiculturalism policy that talks about equal education for all. They said the changes were needed to protect LGBTQ students from bullying.
“Bullying is a fact of life for trans and gender non-conforming youth,” one woman told the board. “No matter what people say, we deserve love and respect like everyone else.”
For the record, the CMS student code of conduct already prohibits bullying based on gender identity/expression or sexual orientation.
The other side – opposed to the policy changes — focused on the second part, about incorporating multicultural education into the curriculum.
They said they didn’t want schools teaching their children about “sensitive topics” like gender expression and sexual orientation, preferring to teach children about these topics themselves. Several speakers said schools should “stick to math” and reading and leave these issues to families.
“It’s a parent’s responsibility to decide what goes in and what stays out of their child’s ears,” one woman said.
“Should my child be subject to personal stories of sexuality?” another woman said.
Did things go too far?
A number of people opposed to the policy changes used inflammatory and inappropriate language – like “sexual deviant behavior,” “perverts” and “sodomites” in their addresses to the school board.
In a particularly tense moment, notorious radical right-winger from Concord Flip Benham came and shouted “Woe be unto you” a bunch of times before leaving the speaker’s podium to approach the board for some reason and was escorted out by security.
What did the school board do?
The board ultimately voted 7-2 to approve the policy changes.
Sean Strain and Thelma Byers-Bailey were the “no” votes. Strain said he felt the anti-bullying policy was strong enough to protect LGBT students and was uncomfortable changing the curriculum.
CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said the changes are about protecting students and responding to broader cultural trends.
“We must be clear about our intention to support them, no matter where they come from, what they look like, whatever their identity or background might be,” he wrote in a statement. “To do our best job as educators, we now have further guiding policy that appropriately acknowledges that public education in Charlotte-Mecklenburg does not exist in a vacuum outside a multi-cultural, more diverse world.”
Is CMS teaching kids about LGBTQ issues currently?
Kind of, but the school district has not been very transparent on what they teach and don’t teach.
Last year, then-Superintendent Ann Clark led the creation of new lesson plans for all grade levels about preventing harassment and bullying, including gender expression- or sexual orientation-based bullying.
Only one of the proposed lesson plans became public, the one for first grade.
CMS was planning to teach first graders using the book “Jacob’s New Dress,” about a boy who wants to wear a dress to school.
Several teachers were uncomfortable with the selection and alerted North Carolina Republican lawmakers, who pushed back on CMS.
The school district quickly announced they would no longer use that book, and substituted “Red: A Crayon’s Story,” about a blue crayon that everybody else thinks is red.
It’s unclear what the lesson plans for other grades were.
Additionally, about 12 CMS elementary schools are using the “Welcoming Schools” program created by the LGBT activist group Human Rights Campaign.
What happens next?
This is really unclear.
CMS spokeswoman Renee McCoy said Wednesday that there will not be new curriculum introduced as a result of the policy change. This seems to contradict the policy that was passed — which now says the district will “intentionally incorporate” diversity and multiculturalism in the curriculum.
Instead, teachers will receive more professional development to address students differences, McCoy said.
“The goal is to educate all children regardless of background, with an understanding of the child’s background based on ethnic, religious, disability/ability, racial and gender differences,” McCoy said in a statement. “This in turn will help all children to accept others, which is what we would like for our students to demonstrate as members of society and a social order.”
Superintendent Clayton Wilcox will now be tasked with coming up with rules for what teachers should instruct children.