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State Board of Education pushes back on campaign against "rogue sex ed"

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The State Board of Education is pushing back against a campaign that claims Michigan schools are pushing "rogue sex ed" by, for example, including books that focus on LGBTQ issues in classrooms.

That’s after the new nonprofit making the claims, the Great Schools Initiative, created a new form to share with parents who want to opt their children out of sex education at school. The group, is focused both on giving parents the opportunity to exclude their child from school-sanctioned sex education classes, and limiting discussions of human sexuality and sexual health in classrooms outside of those classes.

The state school board, in a Tuesday vote, urged local school boards to require parents to use existing opt-out forms, instead of the new form crafted by the Great Schools Initiative.

Monica Yatooma is the Director of Partner Relations for the Great Schools Initiative. She said her organization's form ought to be allowed. She cited a section in Michigan's school code that says, “Upon the written request of a pupil or the pupil's parent or legal guardian, a pupil shall be excused, without penalty or loss of academic credit, from attending a class described in subsection.”

“The opt-out form is a tool to help remind schools that this law exists in Michigan and that they have to follow it,” Yatooma said, adding that the form her group created is more comprehensive than existing school forms.

In Michigan, parents can already opt their child out of attending sex education classes for any reason. Pam Pugh, the president of the State Board of Education, said the board supports parents' authority to remove their child from sex education for any reason.

“We want to speak loud and clear to parents, that as the State Board of Education, as most educators across the state, I would say, if not all, understand the importance of parental involvement, engagement, in education,” Pugh said.

But she said the Great Schools Initiative's push is broader than just sexual education instruction. Pugh said she's concerned that the group is making an effort to place restrictions on LGBTQ content in classrooms.

“Their whole campaign is based on the notion that the mere mention or recognition of LGBTQ people or LGBTQ students is a form of sex education,” Pugh said.

The Great Schools Initiative form does include an opt-out request for discussions related to utilizing chosen pronouns, health care for transgender people, and sexuality and social justice. The organization also has grouped displaying or distributing LGBTQ pride flags, stickers, or other paraphernalia under the umbrella of "rogue sex ed."

Yatooma said that's because talking about gender identity in school “causes confusion” for younger students.

“Which is leading into more questions that require answers that talk about sexual orientation, gender identity. And so when we start getting into those conversations, that becomes a sexual education topic,” she said.

The organization is not anti-LGBTQ, Yatooma said, but “it’s important to protect the innocence of our children.”

Pugh said the Great Schools Initiative is simply highlighting a law that is already in place, which can cause unnecessary parental panic.

“What I see it as is purposeful confusion and the unfortunate use of the word 'parental control' to really be used as dog whistles,” Pugh said.

Taylor Bowie is a senior studying English Literature at the University of Michigan and an intern in the Michigan Radio newsroom. She is originally from Owosso, Michigan.
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