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Bay Area schools plan to purchase LGBT textbooks

by Matthew S. Bajko

Schoolchildren in the Bay Area will be among the first to use recently approved textbooks that include LGBT history lessons as local districts are making plans to purchase the new materials once they are released next year.

California became the first state in the nation to require public schools to use textbooks that include lessons about the LGBT community and its history when the State Board of Education voted November 9 to approve 10 LGBTQ-inclusive history and social studies textbooks for K-8 classrooms.

The state board's decision stemmed from the passage in 2011 of the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act, authored by gay former state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), which required school districts to teach students about LGBT individuals and people with disabilities. Over the last two years educators and LGBT activists have been developing the curriculum standards to implement the FAIR Act.

The final step was the approval of the textbooks, which school districts can now purchase. They are allowed to choose other materials, as long as they include the required LGBT content and other lesson plans detailed in the state education agency's History/Social Science Curriculum Framework.

A number of local school leaders contacted by the Bay Area Reporter said their districts are planning to buy the updated textbooks once they go on sale. Despite it facing a $15.1 million deficit in its current budget, the Oakland Unified School District has a pilot phase underway for textbook adoption and incorporating the criteria established by the FAIR Act, district spokesman John Sasaki told the B.A.R.

"Pending final budget decisions, we are proposing to adopt new fourth-eighth grade materials next year, high school materials in 2019-20, and K-third grade materials in 2020-2021," wrote Sasaki in an emailed reply.

Omar Torres, a gay man serving on the board of the Franklin-McKinley School District, which oversees a number of elementary and middle schools in San Jose, also told the B.A.R. that his district would be phasing in the new LGBT-inclusive textbooks.
"We will be piloting them first. It's part of our process," explained Torres.

Noelani Pearl Hunt, vice president of the Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Education, also expects to see her district purchase the new textbooks for its schools. But she was unsure of how soon they would make it into classrooms.

"I cannot wait to see our students reading about a significant time in our history. My entire career I have focused on equity in all aspects of society, and this is just one step toward that," said Pearl Hunt, a straight ally who has pushed for a number of LGBT-supportive policies while on her school board.

Lesbian Berkeley Unified School District board member Judy Appel, who was involved in the fight to pass the FAIR Act as well as the development of the new teaching framework for what LGBT lessons to include in the curriculum, expects students in the East Bay city to be using the new textbooks but was unsure if they would be in place by the start of the 2018-2019 school year next August.

"Berkeley is excited not just for the LGBT inclusion but the new framework updates our whole curriculum," noted Appel.

Gentle Blythe, the spokeswoman for the San Francisco Unified School District, did not respond to the B.A.R.'s questions on if the district would be purchasing the new textbooks next year. Gay school board member Mark Sanchez could not be reached for comment.

EQCA sends out school surveys
A week prior to the state education board's approval of the new textbooks, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization Equality California sent surveys to 330 unified school districts in the state as part of the process to grade each of them on how well they are educating and protecting the rights of LGBTQ students.

As the B.A.R. noted in April, EQCA's statewide schools scorecard is the first of its kind in the country. It will examine everything from if the districts are teaching the LGBT curriculum and have LGBT supportive student groups to if they have gender-neutral bathrooms for transgender students and allow same-sex couples to attend proms and other school functions.

Officially known as the Safe and Supportive Schools Index, it is a program of the Equality California Institute. Law firm Latham & Watkins LLP provided pro bono assistance with the project, while the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction and an advisory committee comprised of teachers' organizations, school districts, school board members, and LGBTQ and allied organizations consulted on the survey's development.

"This survey will provide the information we need to evaluate the progress that school districts have made in California," stated EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur. "The index and report will convey best practices to teachers and administrators on how to increase acceptance, prevent bullying and suicide, and give LGBTQ students the tools to succeed."

School districts have until January 15 to turn in the completed survey. The results of the scorecards will be released in a public index and report in mid-2018. Modeled after the Human Rights Campaign's annual Municipal Equality Index, which surveys major cities on their LGBT laws and protections, EQCA's schools scorecard is meant to be used by parents, students, and community members to push their local school districts to adopt policies and programs that support LGBTQ students.

The local school officials the B.A.R. contacted all said their districts would be filling out EQCA's survey.

"I think Berkeley does a good job but those surveys are helpful for self-assessment as well," said Appel.

EQCA decided to start with just scoring public schools and only those districts that are unified, meaning they teach kindergarten through high school. It could add private schools in the future as well as smaller public school districts that only have elementary or high schools.

Both the textbooks and EQCA's schools survey are expected to be a focus of discussion when nearly two dozen LGBTQ school board members from around the state meet during the annual conference of the California School Board Association next Thursday, November 30, in San Diego. This year, for the first time, EQCA is sponsoring a reception for the education leaders.

"It is pretty amazing how far we have come from the Briggs initiative, where we weren't going to let LGBTQ people teach our kids, to having LGBTQ leaders on school boards around the state," said Appel, referring to a homophobic ballot measure numbered Proposition 6 that California voters overwhelmingly defeated in November of 1978.

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