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Do you know what is being taught in your child’s school?

Picture of Jeff Stenquist

Jeff Stenquist

Utah House of Representatives - District 46

 

Earlier this year a parent in my district let me know about concerns she was having with her child’s 2nd grade teacher. She was concerned about some of the discussions and imagery supporting a particular viewpoint and lifestyle in the classroom that this parent felt was inappropriate in a school setting and particularly in second grade. The parent had approached the principal with her concerns, but the principal didn’t feel that there are adequate standards of conduct in order to correct or discipline the teacher. She heard similar hesitancy from Jordan District officials.

When I heard of these concerns, I was shocked that the school administration or district felt that they didn’t have enough justification to put limitations on these types of discussions, even around topics related to sexuality. Since then, I’ve met with other parents who have shared similar experiences which leads me to believe this is not an isolated case. This isn’t a problem in just one class, one school or one district. I don’t believe it’s happening in every class but it’s widespread enough to require better rules statewide.

There has been increased scrutiny in recent years about what is and is not appropriate in our school curriculum and library materials. Things that used to be generally understood as being clearly inappropriate in school settings have somehow in recent years become accepted and even endorsed. More and more parents are raising the alarm about things their children are bringing home and about what they are hearing and being told in their classrooms.

We have many wonderful teachers in our state and yet somehow viewpoints, worldviews and ideologies that some parents find objectionable are finding their way into classroom discussions. It’s leading to more heated hearings in School Board meetings and eroding trust in our public education system. I don’t believe that teachers have ill-intent, but some feel the need to advocate for sincerely held beliefs that without fully understanding that some parents may find that objectionable.

Our schools aren’t the place to push one’s personal beliefs or worldviews onto our children regardless of any good intention or what those beliefs happen to be. Parents are responsible to teach values to their children but at times they feel undermined by what their children have learned at school.

In response to these concerns, I drafted and introduced HB550 in this year’s legislative session. This bill simply said that topics of sexuality are completely inappropriate for younger grades and must be age appropriate in middle school and older. I received a great deal of feedback, both positive and negative about this bill, especially when it was compared in the media to Florida’s wrongly named ‘don’t say gay’ bill. Because of the amount of feedback and the lateness in the session I chose to put that bill on hold and to make sure to get it right I promised to work on it over the summer to bring a more comprehensive bill back in the 2024 session.

Since then, I’ve been listening to parents, educators and others as I prepare legislation to keep our schools focused on teaching essential subjects free from inappropriate discussions related to sexuality or advocacy of particular worldviews or ideologies that are counter to the values parents want to teach their children.

When I introduced HB550 I heard from many educators that they felt overwhelmed by the laws being introduced around curriculum and especially the move to fund scholarships for private or home schools. They feel underappreciated and under attack. I sympathize with these concerns and appreciate the difficult work teachers do. It’s interesting that both parents and teachers have told me they feel under attack. Why is that and how do we stop the cycle of reaction and defensiveness? I believe that what we need is open dialogue and clear guidelines.

This legislation is not an effort to attack teachers but to equip them, school administrators and school districts with easy-to-follow guidelines that will help avoid some of the issues we’ve seen. My hope is that this effort will lead to greater trust in our education system. It’s a big challenge, but a critical one, and one I am committed to working through.

2 thoughts on “Do you know what is being taught in your child’s school?”

  1. I think that the curriculum that is going into schools is also a problem. Jordan School District is pushing to put Wit & Wisdom curriculum into K-6. Watch the youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7Ew_ljlKr8. It is appalling and disturbing that the Jordan School District School Board doesn’t see anything wrong with this curriculum.

  2. I am a member of the Jordan District School Board. In our last board meeting on August 8, 2023, we were to vote on whether to adopt an elementary school language arts curriculum called Wit & Wisdom. There were many parents who had come to voice their concerns about some of the books and content which is included in W&W. While other board members claimed to have had a different experience, my experience was that the vast majority of those opposed to using W&W were parents and the vast majority of those in favor of using W&W were teachers/district staff. This includes all the comments I heard in-person, as well as lots of email from constituents. Personally, I really liked the approach used by W&W for teaching reading and reading comprehension. I believe it is probably among the best available curriculum in this regard. However, many of books included in the curriculum contained topics which I found inappropriate for elementary school students. The board voted 5-2 in favor of adopting W&W, conditioned on all the books passing a review process and the company who provides the curriculum being able/willing to replace any books that fail the review process. I was one of the 2 opposed to it.

    Two weeks ago on August 1, 2023, we held a Truth in Taxation hearing where Jordan School District proposed a modest tax increase. The sole purpose of the tax increase was to provide teachers a larger raise than we had originally budgeted for. Sparing you the details behind all of this, I’ll get right to my point: The vast majority of those against the tax increase were parents/constituents and the vast majority of people in favor of the tax increase were, of course, teachers. The tax increase passed 4-3, I was one of the 3 opposed to it.

    Rep Stenquist says: “It’s interesting that both parents and teachers have told me they feel under attack.” I wanted to confirm that I have witnessed this as well at ground level. I have only been on the board since January 2023, so my experience is limited, but so far there is evidence to support the claim that the board favors teacher/district staff requests over parent’s. Perhaps I have a selective memory?? If so, please remind me of other board action that shows otherwise, preferably some significant board action.

    Rep Stenquist then asks: “Why is that and how do we stop the cycle of reaction and defensiveness?” I don’t know how other districts are managed, but in Jordan School District, the board makes the decisions. Not all the day-to-day decisions of course, but the major decisions that come before a school district. Things like which books to use in the classroom and teacher raises as mentioned above. Why did Wit & Wisdom get conditionally approved and why did we pass a tax increase? It may seem like a silly response, but the answer is simple: A majority of our 7-member board wanted those things. Does our 7-member board represent the majority of the constituents within the district? I don’t know, but as far as election results go, yes it does. If you feel like the board is not “representative”, please run for school board in the next election.

    Why do parents feel attacked? Primarily because their perception is that their voices are not being heard. Most issues over which they voice concern go against them. From my perspective, the biggest issue for parents is what is being taught, either directly from curriculum or indirectly through teacher-led discussions.

    Why do teachers feel attacked? Lack of appreciation evidenced by not being adequately compensated. Overwhelmed by more and more bureaucracy from legislature and district policy. And one more major issue that is getting worse and worse each year – dealing with behavioral issues in the classroom. These are probably the top 3 issues I’ve heard that just serve to beat them down and make it difficult to be excited about teaching.

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