California Schools Scrambling to Add Lessons on LGBT Americans

Courtney Williams's picture
Monday, October 17, 2011

Many are flummoxed about how to carry out a new law requiring California public schools to teach all students, from kindergartners to 12th-graders, about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

At Wonderland Avenue Elementary School in Laurel Canyon, there are lesson plans on diverse families — including those with two mommies or daddies — books on homosexual authors in the library and a principal who is openly gay.

But even at this school, teachers and administrators are flummoxed about how to carry out a new law requiring California public schools to teach all students — from kindergartners to 12th graders — about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans in history classes.

"At this point, I wouldn't even know where to begin," Principal Don Wilson said.

Educators across the state don't have much time to figure it out. In January, they're expected to begin teaching about LGBT Americans under California's landmark law, the first of its kind in the nation.

The law has sparked confusion about what, exactly, is supposed to be taught. Will fourth-graders learn that some of the Gold Rush miners were gay and helped build San Francisco? Will students be taught about the "two-spirited people" tradition among some Native Americans, as one gay historian mused?

"I'm not sure how we plug it into the curriculum at the grade school level, if at all," said Paul Boneberg, executive director at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco.

School districts will have little help in navigating this sensitive and controversial change, which has already prompted some parents to pull their children out of public schools.

The Legislature suspended all adoptions of instructional material through eighth grade until 2015 to save money. Any new textbook with LGBT content is not likely to land in schools until at least 2019 because that process usually takes a minimum of four years, according to a state Education Department spokeswoman.

The transition should be easier in L.A. Unified, which has been a pioneer in LGBT education.

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