When Katie Thoms learned that Fern Hill Elementary School teachers had undergone training to instruct K-5 students about gender identity, she felt disheartened.
“It’s inappropriate,” she said. “This subject matter is sensitive, and it should be discussed with children and their families. It’s also a distraction from the focus on education and what the school’s mission is really supposed to be.”
Thoms, who lives in West Goshen Township, is the mother of a 10-year-old boy named David in the 4th grade at Fern Hill Elementary School. She monitors his schoolwork for signs of LGBT influences.
“My husband and I ask him direct questions about whether or not there have been uncomfortable situations or conversations, and so far it has not been brought up in the classroom,” Thoms told the Epoch Times. “We will be putting in a request to have him excluded from these portions of classroom activities.”
The Aug. 24 “An Intro to LGBTQ Education: Cultivating Gender Inclusive Classrooms” program instructed kindergarten through 2nd-grade teachers how to broach the subject of gender ideology with books like Jacob’s New Dress by Ian and Sarah Hoffman and Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall.
A concerned father objected to the training and asked the West Chester Area School District school board to refrain from teaching it again.
“These books are inappropriate, unnecessary, and have manipulative messaging,” Dan Gilman said. “I don’t want my daughters exposed to this. I want my children to learn academics. I did not send them to school to test gender limits. So, please keep this training, keep this ideology out of our schools.”
In a nutshell, Jacob’s New Dress is about a schoolboy who is challenged by his peers for dressing as a princess, while the book Red: A Crayon’s Story teaches that people are complex with many identities.
“It’s hard to believe that we would be instructing these things especially to kids who have no way to analyze, think about or even absorb this kind of material because their brains are just not ready,” said Jennifer McFarland, a former Chester County public school principal.
According to McFarland, the risk of discussing gender identity with students 10 years and younger includes confusion.
“We have a 570 percent increase in children referred to the medical community for sexual dysphoria or gender identity issues,” she said. “Why is that? Because these kids are hearing about it from the time they start kindergarten.”
The instructional materials from the training program were accessed through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiry that the West Chester Area School District granted on Oct. 7 after Fern Hill principal Jennifer Southmayd tweeted about the training day on Twitter on Aug. 24.
At a school board meeting on Oct. 25, parents spoke against teaching gender ideology to young children. Board president Sue Tiernan said diversity is not exclusive to just race.
“We’re talking about the kind of diversity we want to have our children see and live because they’re going out into a world that’s going to be diverse,” she said. “There are going to be all kinds of people. We can protect them in many ways when they’re very small, but very quickly they are ready to meet different kinds of people and get to know many kinds of things.”
The FOIA documents show that training for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades introduced the use of pronouns and how to choose pronouns using the book They, She, He, Me: Free to Be! by Matthew Smith-Gonzalez and Maya Christina Gonzalez. The documents also reveal that the book comes with an activity suggested by the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign.
No Left Turn in Education, a parental rights watchdog group, alleges that the instruction is age inappropriate and irrelevant to reading, writing, and arithmetic.
“Students are still catching up from the COVID learning loss from schools being shut down for so long,” said Yael Levin, chief communications officer for No Left Turn in Education. “So, why is there so much focus and money spent on these training programs when we need to catch our children up and go back to the basics.”
Southmayd did not respond to requests for comment. Molly Schwemler, manager of communications for the school district, characterized the instructional program as gender-inclusive classroom training and not focused on sharing transgenderism with students.
“The West Chester Area School District is continuously looking to improve our ability to provide supportive welcoming environments for our students and families,” Schwemler told the Epoch Times in an email.
“The training at Fern Hill Elementary School focused on developing staff awareness and understanding of gender-based information. It shared additional ways that our staff can create an environment where all students can achieve their best and where all families feel welcome, valued, and respected.”