HODGDON, Maine — A gender neutral language policy raised some concerns with several parents of students in SAD 70.
About a dozen members of the community attended the SAD 70 school board meeting March 8, where the board was reviewing a series of policies to be renewed, but only two people addressed the board.
The policy in question, “Gender Neutral Language,” turned out to have very little associated with the sensitive topic contained in its title.
As presented, the policy reads, “The board directs that all staff members be especially alert to and avoid the use of sexist or other discriminatory language in all communications, both oral and written.”
Board Chairman Ron Silliboy explained to those in attendance that the policy was not a new one created by the board.
“One of the policies that we are going over tonight was adopted [by the board] in 2008,” Silliboy said. “This policy is just being renewed. No language has changed and it reads the same upon its adoption.”
Superintendent Steve Fitzpatrick explained that the title of the policy in question was misleading and suggested that the board table the review until the next monthly meeting to afford him an opportunity to consult with the Maine Municipal Association on changing the title of the policy.
“Gender neutral seems to be one of those red flag words for people,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think the actual name for the policy should be called ‘Non-Discriminatory Language. This policy says nothing about gender neutral. It only covers sexist or discriminatory language.”
Resident Clare Desrosiers expressed concerns about potential federal mandates that might require a school district to teach content on gender ideology or gender theory in a classroom setting.
“Gender theory is not science-based or something that should be taught to our kids in a school,” she said. “That is akin to something we [as parents] should teach to our kids if we so desire. I don’t want to see my 6-year-old being taught the gender unicorn like they do in California.”
The “Gender Unicorn” provides a breakdown of the differences between gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and physical and emotional attraction.
Desrosiers asked the board to consider creating a policy stating the district would not engage in any form of gender identification/preference in a classroom setting.
“If a child goes to a teacher and says ‘I don’t feel comfortable in my body, I think I might be the other sex,’ I don’t want the teacher saying ‘well, maybe you are’,” Desrosiers said. “The parent should be the first one to address that issue with a child, not the teacher or anyone else in the school.”
Nicholas Gilbert of Linneus asked the board for clarification on what “discriminatory language” means.
Fitzpatrick said that the definition is based on state and federal laws.
“Your school board members and superintendent take an oath that we will uphold the laws of the state and federal governments,” he said.
Fitzpatrick added that while this particular policy did not pertain to gender neutral language, he could not rule out the state or federal government requiring schools to explore this topic at some point down the road.
“I am sure this issue will have to be addressed by the board at some point, but it is not on the calendar in the near future,” he said. “When these kinds of topics come up, we will ask for the public’s input on how we might want to handle it.”
The school board unanimously agreed to table the policy until its next meeting.