Rocklin charter schools OK transgender books in elementary school

Joan Harris and her son Alex, of Auburn, attend the board meeting of the Rocklin Academy Family of Schools on Monday evening, September 18, 2017 in Rocklin, California.

A Rocklin school board voted unanimously late Monday night to retain the policies that allowed a book about a transgender child to be read in kindergarten, but adopted a provision to forewarn parents of potentially controversial subject matter.

The vote followed months of controversy that erupted over the book being read at a Rocklin charter school’s story time. It culminated with a packed and sometimes raucous school board meeting Monday night that included three hours of emotional, often tearful, testimony from parents, students, activists and community members.

Opinions in the room were clearly divided, with one side of the chamber primarily supporting the school and its policies and the other side filled with parents who wanted notification of controversial issues and the ability to exempt their children from such lessons.

The summer’s furor threw the south Placer County community into the national spotlight.

Some parents wore stickers on their shirts that said “Protect Parental Rights.”

Wendy Sickler, a parent of two children at Rocklin Gateway Academy, said, “I am concerned. I have a 4-year-old, and he would be starting kindergarten next year. My concern is that a book that was read was outside the curriculum, and it was a sensitive topic, and the parents weren’t notified.”

She said she’s not opposed to a transgender child being in the classroom. “I know that our kids are going to be exposed to different lifestyles, and that to me reinforces that they should notify parents,” she said. But Sickler felt stronger changes are needed than those brought before the school board.

“Today I come here with an open mind,” she said. “I do believe the proposal in the board packet is loose. It says they will endeavor to notify. I do not think that is strong, and I don’t think it makes staff accountable. If that is the policy that is in place, I will not support that.”

The school’s leadership was hoping the meeting would allow the school to focus again on educating children rather than being embroiled in controversy. A number of families have pulled their children from the school, though the number remains a matter of dispute between the divided factions.

After the vote, Board member Larry Steiner beseeched parents to come together and move forward now that a decision had been made.

“Rocklin has become a global media event,” Steiner said. “We have been overrun by special interests.”

He said those interests would soon be gone, and the school community would remain there working together. Staff and faculty are worried about the sort of comments that have appeared on social media, he said.

“Please let this end tonight,” he said. “We cannot forget Rocklin Academy is a school of choice. The hostility has to end. Let’s bring back our sense of community.”

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