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Project Sage curriculum provokes firestorm of protest

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KENT—Kent Center School Principal Michelle Mott and the Board of Education ran into a barrage of complaints from parents concerned about the information their children are being exposed to during their April 10 school board meeting.

It was the second time parents appeared at a board meeting to protest a course offered in conjunction with Project Sage (formerly known as Women’s Support Services). Through Project Sage, students participate in eight class sessions of about 45 minutes each to explore a “healthy and balanced living framework.”

According to the Project Sage website, middle school students hold discussions and activities “addressing healthy relationships, boundaries, consent, online safety, teen dating violence, gender identity and sexual orientation.” The material is adapted for different age groups, but the intent is to help pre-teens “understand the effects of social and cultural messages, re gender, body image and respect. …” 

At the high school level discussions deepen to include “relationship violence, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”

The course has provoked considerable ire among some parents, who again attended the April 10 meeting of the board. School officials told the parents that some changes had been made to the course curriculum by the administration and at the request of parents. 

“The main thing was gender,” said Region 1 Superintendent Lisa Carter. “Parents thought it was too specific and too much information. There was a much more in-depth discussion about the different names that went with gender classifications. We listened to parents.”

But, she added, “The whole thing about gender is it’s part of a person’s identity and to the extent it is part of person’s identify we should respect that.”

The school does not have a contract with Project Sage for the course, nor does the agency charge for its services. Instructors are credentialed.

Parents who spoke at the meeting were frustrated by what they saw as a lack of communication from the school. A parent orientation session to describe the course and answer questions was not planned last fall until after the first class had taken place. While the course is part of the school’s curriculum, parents can choose to opt out of having their child(ren) participate. But here, too, there was a communications mix-up.

“We created a form to make it easier to opt out,” said Carter, “but clearly it didn’t happen that way.”

Tempers flared during the public comment portion of the meeting. Sarah Adams asserted, “I’ve had to two kids go through this bull—- program and I never knew about it. Trust is completely gone.”

Another parent, Bonnie Banffy, insisted “someone” should be held accountable for the fact that informational meetings with parents were not held before the first class.

Peter Gadiel who said he had raised five children and was a grandfather, demanded, “So the Kent Board of Education supports the gender ideology described in the Sage Project curriculum? … It is an ideology not accepted by many people.”

He said he had requested a copy of the course a couple of years before and never received it. “It appears that what is in the curriculum is not fully explained to parents so we can’t knowledgably opt out or in.”

Board Chairman Jenn Duncan said that the curriculum was created by professional educators with “a lot of curriculum experience. We trust them to guide us.” But Gadiel questioned whether “this is an attempt to lure kids into gender flexibility” and concluded, “experts are not always reliable.”

Carter said that it is not about gender ideology but rather gender identity.

Noting that parts of the course were deleted, another parent demanded to know how those decisions were made. Carter said she had read the curriculum in conjunction with counselors and other educators. 

“Now I’m trusting you to decide what my children might be learning in this program?” one parent expostulated. Carter said she had to place her trust in counselors who work with this age group.

Turning to another topic, Carter said she had attended an artificial intelligence workshop. “I have all of the deep-seated fears about AI and what it means for our world,” she said. “But artificial intelligence will be part of our students’ lives, so how do we craft schools to help promote discovery and critical thinking? The take-away was that there is no replacement for a human teacher in the classroom. We need to help students navigate artificial intelligence and it will require real discussion among teachers and administrators in the sense of how to learn about this, to think about it thoughtfully and deliberately.”

Kathryn Boughton
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