VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. - Parents have expressed concerns over a mandatory gender identity program that was recently implemented in elementary schools in the Oak Park Unified School District.
“I think it’s too young and I don’t want my child exposed to that conversation yet,” one parent told FOX 11.
The district says the program is designed to promote anti-bullying and to help create learning environments where all students feel safe and free from judgment.
"Many people are not aware that we have gender non-conforming children at every school in OPUSD and still more students have gender nonconforming family members or friends," said Superintendent Dr. Tony Knight.
The program, which began at the beginning of the school year, requires each grade level to complete a 30-45 minute long class delivered by the school counselor once a year per class. Each of the lessons will focus on gender diversity and inclusion.
The courses will not include the topics of sex or intimate relationships. "Gender identity is separate and distinct from sexual identity," the curriculum explains.
Some parents feel as though the K-5 students are too young to be having conversations about gender identity, and feel that the courses should be optional, rather than required.
“They’re telling us that we have to abide by the lesson plans they're presenting and that students have to be present for these lesson plans," another parent said.
However, the school district says that California law requires school districts to provide instruction and materials in grades K-12 that are inclusive of the LGBTQ community. This includes instruction about gender, gender expression, gender identity, and the harm of negative gender stereotypes.
"California law only allows parents to opt-out (i.e., excuse their child from) of sex and HIV prevention education. Even if this was instruction, parents cannot opt-out of instruction about gender, gender identity or gender expression," the school district says.
"It is expected that some families will be uncomfortable with this discussion, especially when it comes to how it is shared with children. It is important, however, that our own personal uncertainties do not interfere with our ability to do the right thing to protect the safety and well-being of vulnerable children," Dr. Knight wrote in a letter sent to elementary school parents. "Our goal is to continue to create schools that are accepting and appreciative of gender diversity and where all students are supported and feel safe and included."