On May 10, the Fairfax County School Board was presented with the recommendations from the 2017-2018 Advisory Committee on Family Life Education Curriculum, and then took public statements. FCPS has posted a brief summary of the curricula here. The general public can directly e-mail comments to FLEcomments@fcps.edu through June 8.
Among the FLECAC recommendations presented by the majority of the committee:
- “Sex assigned at birth” should be the language used to teach children that biology has no impact on being male or female
- “Clergy” are to be removed from a list of trusted adults children should talk with about concerns they have regarding sex and sexuality
- Students will be taught about pre-exposure prophylaxis (also called PrEP), using a drug not approved by the FDA for children in 9th grade
- Abstinence will no longer be taught as the only 100% effective method of preventing sexually transmitted infections or diseases.
Go here for the full set of FLECAC recommendations. The FCRC is posting the Dissenting Opinion (below the video) because we think the information is crucial for Fairfax voters to understand the serious risks of the FLECAC recommendations.
Immediately below is the link to watch the entire May 10 FCPS School Board meeting. NOTE: The portion discussing the recommendations (proposed changes to the Sex Ed curriculum) by the FLECAC committee begins at 1:30:00.
STATEMENT FROM MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE DISSENTING FROM THE RECOMMENDATIONS
FLECAC Dissenting Opinion – 2017-2018
We are grateful for the privilege we have had this year to serve on FLECAC and to work with FLE staff and colleagues on many issues. We also appreciate this opportunity to share our views with the School Board.
We have deep concerns about a number of this year’s FLECAC recommendations supported by our fellow committee members, and about actions these members took to prevent other recommendations and—in some cases—to block the consideration of essential viewpoints. The airing of different viewpoints and diversity of perspective is absolutely vital to ensuring that the Family Life Education (FLE) curriculum is based on truly informed decisions that consider the interests of everyone in the FCPS community: teachers and staff, parents, and all students.
The Virginia Code and Board of Education (BOE) guidelines require “evidence of broad-based community involvement” in FLECAC, with a repeated emphasis on parental participation, and that all curriculum be “designed to promote parental involvement.”1 FCPS guidelines require that the “religious, cultural and ethnic diversity” of the community be represented. We believe both the composition of FLECAC this year, and many of the measures passed, failed to meet these standards, and so we respectfully ask that the School Board not accept the majority recommendations where this is the case, as detailed below.
The concerns that we have go far beyond mere differences of opinion. For the multiple years we have served, we have accepted that some of our views are unlikely to attract majority support within FLECAC. Frankly, though, under its current configuration, FLECAC is broken. The following serious problems with FLECAC’s composition and the processes it followed this year undermined the integrity and legitimacy of the committee’s deliberations, and will continue to do so if not fixed for next year:
- Silencing of viewpoints. This year was the first time FLECAC had an opportunity to review, at the direction of the Board, the lesson scripts prepared by FCPS staff for the LGBT curriculum approved by the Board in 2015. When one of us, Laura Hanford, proposed motions at the January meeting that would improve the medical accuracy of some of these new lessons,2 her amendments were tabled by the majority, and the Board promptly replaced Ms. Hanford. In the last decade and a half no other committee member has had their tenure summarily curtailed mid-term in this manner.3 At the next meeting in February, the FLECAC majority used parliamentary procedures to suppress all debate on these motions, as well as on a motion by Ms. Laura Murphy to ensure medical accuracy in teaching about contraceptives.4 The willingness of the FLECAC majority to completely silence earnest deliberation on certain viewpoints, or even a vote on the merits, is of tremendous concern, and raises questions about how members might have voted differently had there been a more open
- Underrepresentation of parents. Based on FLECAC’s current membership, it is clear that the voices of parents who have children in the FCPS system are greatly underrepresented. We are extremely confident that a much higher proportion of county voters would support our positions on various issues than FLECAC votes
If there is no forum for open deliberation within FLECAC that more accurately represents the electorate, there is no outlet within the FCPS system for large groups to be heard, if they don’t command a majority on this sole FLE advisory committee. We believe that a very large percentage of parents with children in FCPS (perhaps most) would oppose many of FLECAC’s actions this year. These parents recognize that a number of questions still exist on various controversial subjects dealing with sexuality and family life, and oppose efforts to ideologically whitewash the curriculum by withholding important information from students. We are deeply concerned that this suppression of community viewpoints and medical information undermines the validity of the curriculum and the trust of the FCPS community.
After the February meeting, FCPS staff commendably forged a consensus allowing open discussion for the remaining FLECAC meetings. But the February meeting’s decisions remain compromised, and there are no formalities protecting the integrity of the process for future years. Going forward, we respectfully urge the Board to formally amend the governing regulations or bylaws to require open discussion on each question for a reasonable period of time. We also recommend reviewing the composition and governing policies of FLECAC to conform to the Virginia code and BOE guidelines, both of which emphasize parental and community engagement. The proportion of parents (other than FCPS employees) who have children in FCPS should significantly increase.
Based on a full curriculum review, our greatest concerns are the following majority recommendations.
Omitting key facts about medical decisions related to sexuality (Objectives ESH 7.1, ESH 8.2, HGD 9.6, HGD 10.6). The February meeting silenced discussion on proposals to consider relatively minor additions to Grades 7-8 LGBT lessons: using the proper medical terminology, and adding a discussion of the possible risks and side effects of medical interventions for sex reassignment involving hormonal therapy or surgical treatments. Virtually all studies of transgender individuals, from youth to adults, show that this is a highly vulnerable population. However, as of today, there is no FDA approval of hormonal therapy for gender reassignment in children, nor do long-term studies exist demonstrating the safety of hormonal and surgical reassignment interventions in children. The latest guidelines of the Endocrine Society cite potential adverse outcomes for hormone therapy ranging from sex-specific cancers to bone density, cardiovascular conditions, mental health events and permanent sterility.5 The largest studies available show persisting higher rates of adverse psychiatric events and suicidality in transgender individuals, even those having undergone reassignment in supportive environments.6 The multi-center US STRONG study of 6,456 transgender individuals concluded in November 2017 that “there are sufficient numbers of events in the TF [trans female] and TM [trans male] cohorts to further examine mental health status, cardiovascular events, diabetes, HIV and most common cancers.”7 As stated by a group of leading pediatricians in June 2017, the lack of a proper study documenting “the alleged benefits and potential harms to gender-dysphoric children from pubertal suppression and decades of cross-sex hormone use…should give everyone pause.”8
And yet, the majority of FLECAC voted repeatedly not only to suppress all discussion of such risks in committee, but to withhold all such information from students in the curriculum, in any place where discussion of transgender issues or transition occurs. Later in the year, the majority rejected even modest proposals to have the Grade 8-10 curriculum (1) acknowledge that such risks and side effects may exist; or
(2) encourage students to discuss related medical and emotional issues with parents or trusted adults.
The new LGBT curriculum opens the door for our children to consider medical decisions related to sexuality, with potentially irreversible consequences for them, at a time of life when adolescent confusion and peer pressure9 can lead them to feel and act differently about their sexuality than they will as adults. In the vast majority of children, gender dysphoria resolves by young adulthood (a conservative estimate is 85%10). To portray such feelings as an escapable identity could encourage students to make life-altering and irreversible decisions they may later regret. We cannot afford to fail our student community by portraying transition as the logical outcome of gender dysphoria, or one that is risk-free, and yet it is currently the sole outcome specifically discussed in the curriculum.
The FLECAC majority’s categorical rejection of even the most modest proposals on medical and emotional issues inexcusably deprives students of important information they need in weighing these possible decisions. We respectfully urge the Board to instruct FCPS staff to include information about the potential risks and side effects of medical treatment relating to transgender transitioning (in Emotional and Social Health objectives 7.1 and 8.5 and Human Growth and Development objectives 9.6 and 10.6). Doing so is vitally necessary to make the LGBT curriculum consistent with the FLE curriculum on other sensitive medical topics (contraceptives in Grade 10 and abortion) where risks and/or side effects are discussed.
Biological vs. ideological definition of sex (throughout FLE curriculum). Early in the school year, FLECAC reached informal consensus in recommending that FCPS change the term “biological gender” to “biological sex” throughout the curriculum where it appears. The consensus view was that the term “sex” describes an objective medical fact, whereas “gender” is a person’s subjective view of their identity.
Recently, however, the majority went beyond this consensus to replace all references to “biological sex” with “sex assigned at birth.” This terminology is misleading and medically inaccurate. “Sex” and “biological sex” are used throughout medical research and literature around the world11 and have a well-defined medical and legal meaning established over centuries. With the exception of very rare Disorders of Sexual Development (estimated 1 in 4500),12 which may require sex to be assigned, biological sex is unambiguously determined by DNA, chromosomes and reproductive anatomy.13 To convey throughout the curriculum that ambiguity or choice exists in determining sex, when it does not, is doing a grave disservice to all students, including those struggling with questions of identity. Despite the claims of some of our FLECAC colleagues that “biological sex is meaningless” and should never be used, “biological sex” is in fact foundational to modern medicine and scientific research. The term “sex assigned at birth,” contrary to assertions made in committee, is not universally used or recognized.14 It seeks to establish a controversial ideological premise of gender fluidity. FLE is not the place for such ideological advocacy, but for teaching biological fact. FLE curriculum should, therefore, use the universally understood and recognized scientific term “biological sex,” rather than the ideologically charged term “sex assigned at birth.” We respectfully urge the Board to adopt this earlier FLECAC informal consensus position using “biological sex” and not “sex assigned at birth” throughout the curriculum in Grades 7-10.
Not stating risks and side effects of contraceptives (Objectives HGD 9.4, 11.2, and 12.3) We strongly believe that students make better decisions when presented with full and accurate medical information, and that withholding instruction of potential risks is harmful. Advantages and disadvantages of contraceptives are currently communicated in Grade 10, Human Growth and Development, Lesson 2. For consistency and as best educational practice, that same comprehensive information (both pro and con) should also be included in the other grades where contraceptives are discussed.
Taking away parental opt-out right (Objective ESH 8.4). The FLECAC majority voted this year to recommend the transfer of Grade 8 Emotional and Social Health Objective 8.4 from FLE to health. This deprives parents of their right to decide whether they want the school to provide instruction on matters touching on potentially sensitive family subjects. We respectfully urge the Board to use the same wisdom it used in a similar case from 2015 and disregard this year’s FLECAC recommendation to transfer 8.4.
Not teaching abstinence as the only 100% effective method of preventing the sexual transmission of STIs (Objectives HGD 9.4, 9.5, 10.5, 11.2 and 12.3). We strongly urge the Board not to accept the majority recommendation to downgrade the 100% effectiveness of abstinence in sexual transmission of STIs. As clarified repeatedly by FCPS staff during FLECAC deliberations, emphasizing abstinence instruction is statutorily required in Virginia FLE.15
Removing “clergy” from the list of “trusted adults” (Objectives HGD 9.6 and 10.6). We strongly urge that clergy continue to be listed among the persons students are encouraged to consult.
Adding instruction on the use of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylactic) to Grades 9-12 (Objectives HGD 9.5, 10.5, 11.1 and 12.2) Despite agreeing with the overall goal of reducing exposure to HIV, we recommend against adding instruction on PrEP to the curriculum for the following reasons: (1) PrEP is designed to be effective without a condom, and anti-HIV advocates fear it may contribute to a significant rise in unprotected sexual activity.16 Even at its best, it is only effective in the 90% range.17 (2) It has potentially significant side-effects, which are untested over the long term as PrEP has only been in use a few years.18 (3) It has not been studied in, nor is it FDA-approved for, children under 18,19 who constitute the majority of students in these grades. The potential harm to students, in our view, outweighs the possible benefits at this point.
Despite our differences with our colleagues, we appreciate them and the opportunities we had to find common cause on a number of other issues this year.
We thank you for your consideration of our views and concerns, and for your service to the community. Laura Hanford, At-Large Board Member FLECAC Appointee (through January 2018)
Laura Murphy, Springfield District FLECAC Appointee Jim Zanotti, Sully District FLECAC Appointee
1 VA Code § 22.1-207.1. Family life education. C. All such instruction shall be designed to promote parental involvement…
2 Using the medically accurate term “sex” rather than the ideological “sex assigned at birth” and adding instruction about the risks of medical reassignment; see Feb. 8 Agenda https://www.fcps.edu/sites/default/files/media/pdf/FLECACAgendaFeb82018.pdf.
3 FLECAC is the only advisory committee with its own regulation. Reg. 1708 supersedes Policy 1710 (governing other advisory
committees) in all respects and practice, and provides for a 2-year term without regard for an election replacing the appointing Board Member (as was the case for Ms. Hanford). Yet Policy 1710 was selectively invoked to terminate Ms. Hanford’s tenure.
4 See minutes from the Feb. 8, 2018 meeting.
5 The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 102, Issue 11, 1 November 2017, Pages 3869-
3903, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2017-01658 Published: 13 September 2017.
6 G. Heylens, E. Elaut et al., Psychiatric characteristics in transsexual individuals: multicentre study in four European countries, The British Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 204, Issue 2, Feb. 2014 https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.bp.112.121954. Dhejne, C., Lichtenstein, Paul et al. Long-Term Follow-Up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery: Cohort Study in Sweden Published: February 22, 2011 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0016885. Conclusion: “Persons with transsexualism, after sex reassignment, have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population. Our findings suggest that sex reassignment, although alleviating gender dysphoria, may not suffice as treatment for transsexualism…”
7 Quinn VP, Nash R, Hunkeler E, et al. Cohort profile: Study of Transition, Outcomes and Gender (STRONG) to assess health status of transgender people. BMJ Open 2017;7:e018121. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2017-018121.
9 Lisa Marchiano, “Outbreak: On Transgender Teens and Psychic Epidemics,” Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought, Volume 60, 2017, pp. 345-366; blog post at https://4thwavenow.com/2016/09/25/layers-of- meaning-a-jungian-analyst-questions-the-identity-model-for-trans-identified-youth/.
10 Endocrine Society Guidelines, 2017.
12 S.F Witchel, Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology 48 (2018) 90-102; I.A. Hughes et al, Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 351–365, 200.
13 The National Academy of Sciences Committee on Understanding the Biology of Sex and Gender states that “sex begins in the womb” at “the moment of conception” followed by well-established processes of differentiation between the 2 sexes.
Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Understanding the Biology of Sex and Gender Differences; Wizemann TM, Pardue ML, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001.
14 The “STRONG” study of 6456 transgender individuals distinguishes “biological sex” from “gender identity” and uses the term “natal sex” throughout the study. Quinn VP, Nash R, Hunkeler E, et al. Many medical professionals recommend against using the term “sex assigned at birth” including the 19,000-member Christian Medical Association (www.cmda.org) and the American College of Pediatricians (www.acpeds.org).
15 VA Code § 22.1-207.1. Family life education
16 https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/06/17/is-prep-a-good-way-to-fight-hiv-infections/truvada-cant-make-us-let- our-guard-down15 VA Code § 22.1-207.1. Family life education.
19 CDC guidelines: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/prepguidelines2014.pdf
Photo credit: screenshot from video Fox5 DC