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School district’s use of ‘gender inclusive’ language in health class sparks backlash

By Carolyn Sistrand

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    ESSEX, Vermont (WPTZ) — The Essex Westford School District will be using ‘person first’ language when talking about sex and puberty in a science and health class for students at Founders Memorial School, which has now received national backlash.

Vermont Agency of Education and the Department of Health, alongside partners like youth LGBTQ+ organization Outright VT, crafted the language and published the recommendations on the AOE website. They are recommendations, not a requirement.

In a letter to Essex Westford families and caregivers, it outlines the changes:

Person who produces sperm in place of boy, male, and assigned male at birth Person who produces eggs in place of girl, female and assigned female at birth

“By breaking down language to be more inclusive, to talk about what body parts do rather than who people are, it helps young people access the information no matter the identities they hold,” Amanda Rohdenburg, associate director of Outright VT, said. “They can connect that this body part does this thing, and that means XYZ for my future.”

Rohdenburg added that LGBTQ+ youth make up a large number of unwanted pregnancies each year. Her hope is that a more inclusive health and sex education curriculum can help to lower those statistics.

Vermont Family Alliance believes this move is inappropriate and ignores the biology of the human body.

“Every student should have equal access to scientific reality,” Renee McGuinness, a spokesperson, said. “It doesn’t matter what their sexual orientation is, it doesn’t matter what their gender identity is.”

Some parents in the district agree, which is why they’ve reached out to the grassroots organization Parents Defending Education.

Director of Outreach Erika Sanzi said multiple families sent the letter to their organization. They told Sanzi that they were afraid to speak up about their disagreements with this change because of how others might respond.

“They get smeared and labeled as hateful or transphobic or bigoted when they raise concerns like this,” Sanzi said.

NBC5 reached out to the Essex Westford School District for comment. On Friday, the school provided the following response:

“The EWSD continues to utilize the same AOE approved standards with language updates in alignment with the Vermont Agency Education recommendations. Per the EWSD Equity Policy, we remain committed to utilizing inclusive language and practices to ensure all students grow and thrive.

We also strive to model kindness, respect, and civility to our students. As we engage with transparency with our community, the Board will not tolerate vitriol, hateful or threatening language, or other mistreatment of our staff. As a board, we fully stand behind our educators, administrators, and their work ensuring academic excellence in adherence to state standards.”

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