UPDATED (04/13/2021): Post updated to reflect comments from State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen whose office is investigating the situation.
A Missoula sexual education teacher distributed a handout titled “Questions for Exploring Sexual Orientation” to Sentinel High School students, according to parents and confirmed by school officials. The questions on the handout asked students to consider changing their sexual orientation “starting right now” and to also consider the idea that “heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same gender.”
The school board was notified of the handout last Thursday, April 7th. Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson told school board members that his administrative team had “dealt with the situation appropriately,” according to members of the board. Watson did not reveal the identity of the teacher.
The teacher who passed the questionnaire to students alleged that they had found the handout in a school curriculum website in Idaho and that they were using the questions on the handout “as an example of offensive questions,” according to an email from Rob Watson to school board trustees.
The questionnaire is a handout from a manual titled Filling the Gaps: Hard to Teach Topics in Sexuality Education. The manual was published by a non-profit organization named Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, Inc. (SIECUS). SIECUS was established in 1964 by Mary Calderone after she left Planned Parenthood Federation of America where she acted as Medical Director for 11 years. The manual’s Credits list that it was published with a grant from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In the preface of the manual, the words in capital letters “NOT A CURRICULUM” appear several times. The manual states that it “provides sample lessons for instructing young people” on “abstinence, condom use, diversity, pregnancy options, safer sex, sexual behavior, sexual identity and orientation, and sexuality and society.” The manual’s preface also states under the subheading “Involving Parents” that “educators ensure that parents/guardians are fully aware of the curriculum content and process” and suggests sending a letter to parents “before the program starts.” The manual also states that parents “should always have the right to opt their child out.”
According to parents of students who originally shared this handout with Free Missoula News, they were not notified of this handout or the content of the lesson beforehand.
School Board Trustee Michael Gehl said that because Sup. Watson informed the school board after the agenda for tonights meeting had been set, the board will have to address the situation at the April 26th school board meeting.
Gehl described the situation as activist teachers “getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar” after a controversial modification to MCPS policy approved by the board last month removed oversight on “other instructional materials” used by Missoula teachers in classrooms.
Last month, the board removed their own oversight of school instructional materials by striking part of the language in policy 2311 that previously read, “Core instructional materials shall be selected by the Superintendent, or designee, and adopted by the Board prior to their use.” The policy was updated to read, “The selection of other instructional materials is not subject to board approval.”
The incident comes just as activist teachers nationwide insist on teaching children about gender and sexual identity after the passage of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education House Bill 1557. The bill prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels.
In 2014, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office published a 72-page report warning about child predators in public schools, recommending that administrators monitor teachers for “grooming behaviors” that could lead to “sexual misconduct” and “sexual abuse.”
Gehl said that the Office of Public Instruction and the Governor’s office were involved with the situation. We reached out to the OPI to find out what involvement the State Superintendents office planned to take. In a call Wednesday night from her office, State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen said that she contacted Superintendent Rob Watson today and left a message with his staff to discuss the matter.
Arntzen said that her office wants to hear from the superintendent regarding what happened, why it happened, and to find out what policy gave the teacher the use of a tool in classroom that did not meet state standards. “I reviewed the K-12 Content Standards for Health and Science and found no reference to gender identity, homosexuality or heterosexuality.”
The state Content Standards are subject-matter curriculum guides for educators that include standards and resources for teachers building their own curriculums. Missoula County Public Schools also has a standard on Health and Science curriculums and neither standard mentions “homosexuality” “heterosexuality” or “gender identity”. Though the MCPS Health Curriculum Enhancement for Pre K-12, adopted in 2016, does mention “gender equity”.
The OPI also wants to ask Watson if the teacher provided parents with the opportunity to decline the lesson. “We also want to find out if the parents were notified using an opt-in or opt-out,” Antzen said. “Because if the note does not get home to the parents they do not have the ability to opt in or out.”
The state superintendent is waiting to hear back from Missoula Superintendent Watson and from school administration in Shelby where Arntzen said she was notified of a related situation. “It is happening everywhere,” the OPI said.
Arntzen wants parents and schools to know that she is taking the matter seriously and that her goal is to find the truth of the matter and remediate the situation. “This isn’t about us versus them,” she said. “This is about seeking the truth and then putting our children’s well-being in the center of the conversation.”
Regarding whether or not the teacher would face disciplinary action, School Board member Gehl said further action from the local superintendent or the board is not likely. “Accountability is not going to happen,” Gehl said. “Not until a new board is elected.”