Parents, governor weigh in on changes to Essex-Westford sex ed program

Published: May. 2, 2023 at 11:44 PM EDT|Updated: May. 3, 2023 at 4:22 PM EDT
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - On the heels of national backlash, some parents in the Essex-Westford School District let their school board know how they feel about the new sex education policy in one of their schools. And now the governor is weighing in, too.

Tuesday night was the first board meeting since the district announced it is changing how it teaches puberty and reproductive health at Founders Memorial School.

Last month, parents of fifth graders received a letter explaining that educators will now use the phrases “person who produces sperm” or “person who produces eggs” in place of male or female.

The district insists the policy creates a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students.

More than a dozen parents spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. The majority agreed with the new policy.

“I am so disappointed in the anger that has erupted in our community over what amounts to space for gender nonconforming students to feel safe and free and express their identity,” said Mary Brodsky, an Essex-Westford parent.

“I am so grateful my boys that go to school here. They are so much more wiser, knowledgeable than I was at their age. I am so grateful of the education they’re getting to understand the breadth and depth of humanity,” said Alexis Dubie, another parent.

Only two speakers raised concerns about the new policy. One said this concept could be confusing for students so young, while another said it discounts biological facts.

It’s not clear if students at other schools in the district-- at A.D. Lawton and the Westford School-- will be using person-first language in their sex ed classes.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said on Wednesday that he’s been following the controversy.

“To me, it seems we went a little too far in this, but at the same time, at the end of the day, I don’t know who it’s really hurting. But it seems as though there might be some room in between,” said Scott, R-Vermont. “For sex education in those age groups-- fifth and sixth graders-- it seems like we could be talking about boys, girls and those who are born into different bodies and trans rights, things of that nature. And we could build that in. It seems like we could have it both ways.”

The governor went on to point out that this was a local decision made by the district but Vermont districts rely on guidance from the state. The Vermont Agency of Education recommended the language based on input from the Vermont Sexual Health Education Stakeholder group. That group included Education Agency staff, state health officials, teachers and advocacy groups like Outright Vermont. No parent groups were included.

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