A small school district in Michigan is pushing back against those who would alter its sex ed program by incorporating discussions of sexual and gender identity.
For the last eight years, Allendale, Michigan, a town of roughly 26,000 people, has offered a sex ed program titled “Willing To Wait,” which holds fast to the "benefits of abstaining from sex until marriage" and does not address the issues of gender and gender identity.
But, as reported by National Public Radio’s Alyssa Edes and Ailsa Chang on Monday, last spring, partly prompted by parents’ discovery that a teacher named Tiffany Harp was discussing gender identity in her “Family and Relationships” class, a heated debate arose about changing the sex ed curriculum to include LGBTQ+ issues and a stronger emphasis on scientific discussions of sex and sexuality.
The situation engendered anger among parents, many of whom wanted the sex ed message to continue to champion abstinence until marriage. These parents attended public hearings to inform the school board and sex ed advisory board of their perspective. NPR quotes one parent as asserting succinctly, "When you fundamentally discredit the very nature of God's creation of our youth as male and female, you are seeking to discredit God." Other parents said that teachers introducing LGBTQ+ issues with their children was inappropriate, maintaining that discussions of sexual identity with children should be left to their parents.
In defense of the abstinence-focused program, a group calling itself CAST (Conservatives of Allendale Stand Together) issued a 29-page complaint to the school board urging the school district to eschew LGBTQ+ issues in class, stating in part: "We believe leading our children to explore LGBTQ issues may have significant physical and mental health ramifications … It is every parent's natural right to teach their OWN children what they believe in regards to sexuality. It is not the right of a minority of our community to impose their desire for comprehensive sexuality education inclusive of LGBTQ subjects to be taught to OTHER people's children."
Asked by NPR for their perspective on the situation, CAST posted an open letter on Facebook explaining their position. Below is the full text of the letter:
You have asked for our perspective on sex ed in Allendale and on the teaching of LGBTQ issues to students in our school.
Michigan school code explicitly states...
Section 380.10: “It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children. The public schools of this state serve the needs of the pupils by cooperating with the pupil’s parents and legal guardians to develop the pupil’s intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive manner.”
“Natural" rights are those rights given to us by our Creator, rights that cannot be taken away by man, government or a school system. As parents, we take our role in our children’s education seriously, and recognize public schools are not given a role above that of a child’s parents.
Michigan’s School Code regarding sex education states the board of a school district “may” (380.1507 (1)) provide sex education, but this is not a mandate. Our schools do not have to provide sex education, and when parents allow the schools to educate our children on such an important subject, we require it be done with utmost integrity and transparency, for the best interest of our children, and in accordance with the law.
Willing to Wait, an abstinence-based program provided free of charge by knowledgeable and skilled professionals, has been taught in Allendale Public Schools for the past 8 years. This program, taught by Willing to Wait instructors, was approved by prior SEAB boards, with 2 public hearings and a vote by the School Board, according to the requirements of Michigan law. This required process, outlined by Michigan school code, allowed the voices of parents to be heard “before adopting any revisions in the materials or methods used in instruction”. 380.1507 (6)
Both Middle School and High School principals reported a 100% approval rate for Willing to Wait, with no known complaints for the last 8 years. There are tested success measures of the program. Allendale students have loved this program, as they are more comfortable discussing intimate issues with a specialized outside instructor they don’t see on a daily basis following the curriculum.
We believe teaching our children issues of sexuality is our responsibility and our privilege, a responsibility and right which does not belong to Michigan schools. Teaching sexuality issues without parental knowledge and/or consent, violates Michigan law.
It is every parent’s natural right to teach their OWN children what they believe in regards to sexuality, to “direct the care, teaching, and education of their children”, as outlined by Michigan law. We are now advocating for Allendale Public Schools to offer two models of sex education, as there is a great divide in our community between what parents desire to be taught to their children. Alternatively, sex education could be taught outside of school altogether. However, it is not the right of a minority of our community to impose their desire for comprehensive sexuality education inclusive of LGBTQ subjects to be taught to OTHER people’s children.
We value every child, and sexuality education is not a subject that needs to cause division in our community. Disagreement on how we choose to raise our OWN children simply does not equal hate or homophobia. Parents do not need to relinquish their rights to direct the care and upbringing of their children to prove they are a loving individual. Mutual respect and room to allow others to raise their children according to their OWN beliefs on sexuality, is supportive of ALL parents, and is supported by Michigan law.
Conservatives of Allendale Stand Together
Editor's note: This article has been updated to provide more clear attribution to NPR and revised for clarity.