By Pat Lynch
Oak Park Unified School District chose to shut out the community, but the community showed up anyway. Oak Park Unified held a parent information night on Tuesday, September 10th in response to the controversy and backlash to the newly adopted gender identity curriculum. There’s a catch, though. Only parents of currently enrolled elementary students were allowed to attend, and they were required to RSVP in order to be admitted.
Taxpayers and residents of Oak Park, who are funding the district, were NOT welcome. Parents of children in middle school or high school were NOT welcome. Parents considering Oak Park as a District of Choice and applying soon were NOT welcome to find out what the school will be teaching their children.
While highly unorthodox and seemingly contrary to their “welcoming school” mantra, it is not illegal to close their meetings if school board members are not present in majority. Oak Park made sure that there were not enough board members there, so they didn’t have to allow the public in.
Parents, grandparents and community members showed up in droves to express their concerns about this controversial gender identity curriculum. Per State law, this curriculum is completely optional for grades K-6, so Oak Park is defying parents unnecessarily. Oak Park USD is also incorrectly claiming that no opt-out is possible. This is optional curriculum, so of course they can offer an opt-out. The State just does not mandate the offer of an opt-out.
Several local news crews were also present to document the outrage this community is feeling in response to the lack of tolerance and respect by the school district. However, no reporters were allowed on site or in the meeting. Even the students from the high school newspaper were asked to leave until the meeting was over.
Administrators flanked the entrance and asked anyone handing out flyers or holding signs to leave the campus, and several times requested the Sheriff present to have those people removed. Another panel of administrators checked names at the door to confirm that only parents who RSVP could enter the meeting.
The meeting began with Superintendent Tony Knight warning parents that any speaking out of turn, disruptive behavior, including applause could lead to being escorted out by the Sheriff, standing in wait, and charged with a misdemeanor offense. The meeting was led by Knight and Stew McGugan, director of student support and school safety for the district. Local social worker and sex therapist Todd Walker, who specializes in LGBTQ tweens and teens according to his website, was brought in to explain the justification for this curriculum, stating questionable statistics about the LGBTQ and transgender student populations. The cited statistics were from the 2015 National School Climate Survey done by GLSEN, an LGBTQ activist organization whose survey methods have been widely criticized as heavily biased and not statistically valid. It is also curious why he cited the 2015 survey rather than a more recent version.
The panel also included a summary presentation of the curriculum presented by chief author of the curriculum, Holly Baxter, school counselor from Red Oak Elementary. Other members of the panel included the school counselors from the other two elementary schools and Jay Greenlinger, director of curriculum for Oak Park.
For the Q&A portion of the meeting, written questions were only allowed using QR code reader, so parents had to download and utilize that mechanism, and these questions were heavily moderated. No discussion or follow up verbal questions were allowed. After the meeting, several parents complained that they only answered “soft-ball” questions, and none of their difficult questions were addressed. When asked if teaching gender fluidity would cause confusion in children, Holly Baxter responded “Children are stubborn and they just don’t change based on exposing them to an idea.” Many families were seen walking out in frustration during the Q&A portion. But what seemed to truly upset many families was when Todd Walker was asked at what age a child may be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, “I’ve seen a child as early as 18 months old.” Children can barely form a complex sentence at that age, let alone express thoughts on an abstract concept like gender. My kids certainly didn’t know the difference between girls and boys at that age.
Many parents left this meeting feeling discouraged and disappointed that their voices went unheard, and stating they still plan to keep their children home the days this material is being taught. Several parents mentioned they are already looking at moving their children out of the school district.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.
Pat Lynch is a resident of Ventura County