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Changes to FLE curriculum raise concerns

First slide

In light of possible changes to the Fairfax County Public School Family Life Education (FLE) curriculum, concerned parents are urging others to opt their children out of the classes that aim to teach students about human development and sexuality. 

If the school board approves changes made by the FLE Curriculum Advisory Committee (FLECAC) this summer, biological sex will be referred to as sex assigned at birth. But even without those changes, critics say the lessons taught today implicitly encourage sexual activity for teens, show needlessly explicit videos and discuss how to use several types of birth control.

In 2015, gender identity was added to the non-discrimination clause that every student and parent must sign at the beginning of the school year. Alarmed by the change, a few concerned Catholics who believe gender is a biological fact and not a choice gathered to discuss the school board’s activities. They then formed ParentandChild.org, a group that goes through all the FLE lessons and rates them green, yellow or red. 

“We had people of all faiths (in the group) and our whole viewpoint was looking at the lessons from a standpoint of the physical and emotional well-being of the student, and for scientific accuracy,” said John Murray, a parishioner of St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax. 

Some lessons with important messages about abstinence, healthy self-esteem, or information about conception and human development were rated green. Lessons with possibly objectionable content were rated yellow. For example, one lesson on sex trafficking was rated yellow because, although it had important information, the discussion of rape and prostitution could be upsetting to some children, said Murray. Red lessons have messaging on how teens can prepare for sex, discuss homosexual activity and transgenderism, among other things.  

“There's no shortage of people that have a philosophy (that contradicts the teaching of the Catholic Church on human sexuality), but to teach it to kids in schools? It's a trusted institution and in many respects that trust is well-founded but not in this case, not in some of these lessons,” said Murray. 

Bishop Burbidge discusses possible updates to the curriculum, along with other issues, on the latest Walk Humbly podcast. 

“We want parents to take a second look,” said Thérèse Bermpohl, director of the Office of Marriage, Family and Respect Life. “Parents are the primary educators of their children, and when it comes to faith and morals we don't want to leave that to the state.”

Meg Kilgannon, a parishioner of St. Veronica Church in Chantilly, sends three of her children to public school. She opts her kids out of all FLE classes, but still believes it is important to see what the schools are teaching. “Catholics should be allowed to attend public school and not have our beliefs attacked or undermined,” she said. 

Tweaks are made every year to the FLE curriculum, but during this school year, the FLECAC began a comprehensive review. The committee will present its proposed changes to the school board in mid-May and the board will vote on the changes June 14, said Kilgannon. 

Some of the changes are good, said Carol Nyce, another parishioner of St. Veronica involved in ParentandChild.org. A video about incest and another one that seemingly glorifies suicide will be removed. But a lot of things are missed, said Nyce. “The curriculum has no mention of the dangers of pornography, no mention of the downside of contraception or of gender transitioning,” she said. “I think that the most problematic insertion is ‘gender assigned at birth’ in FLE classes, yet in biology, they’re learning about the XX and XY chromosomes. It’s a total intellectual disconnect.”

Murray is looking into Arlington County’s FLE, though accessing its curriculum has been difficult, he said. Fortunately, Fairfax County has been very transparent with its content and the school board’s process, he said. “They don’t play games; they make it available.”

Based on past votes, Nyce believes the school board will pass the new curriculum. But the members of ParentandChild.org encourage parents to comment publicly and contact their board members anyway. 

Most importantly, parents should be aware of what their children and other students are learning. “The (FLE) objectives are good but that's not always the meat of what's taught and it's time-consuming to go through all the lessons,” said Nyce. “We try to be a tool to help parents know what's going on. The school board has been responsive to some degree because we’re paying attention now.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018