UNFPA sex-education graphicUNFPAgraphic

Residents will need to wait until at least mid-June for a chance to have formal objections on any topic processed at Arlington Public Schools.

Following a brief discussion and by unanimous vote of the committee, the temporary suspension of Policy IJ-R was extended to the next committee meeting, set for June 15; it was originally set to lapse the evening of the meeting, May 25.

The suspension essentially imposes a temporary moratorium on the ability to officially express displeasure with APS actions; people retain the ability to file objections, but none will be considered until later this month at earliest.

The committee’s policies and procedures subcommittee has been working on a language revision for Policy IJ-R over the past several weeks following an earlier discussion about sex education. To date, two proposals have been developed, but neither has been presented at the committee level. 

School Committee logoJeff Thielman, who made the motion at the May 25 meeting, said then that it would be prudent to wait so as to give the public more time to become familiar with the alternatives and to voice any concerns.

Contacted by YourArlington in early June for a further explanation, subcommittee Chair Paul Schlichtman offered the metaphor of a post office whose mail-processing machine is broken and awaiting replacement or repair.

“Suspending IJ-R temporarily shut down the processing mechanism for a curriculum challenge," he wrote. "Just as someone could drop a letter in the mailbox while collections were [effectively] suspended, someone could file a formal objection. However, it would sit in the ‘mailbox’ until we activate the policy that tells the administration how to handle the objection.”

Schlichtman noted the more immediate and direct way to address issues: “Of course, folks can always work through a more informal process of contacting their building principal with any questions or concerns. However, a formal complaint filed during the suspension would sit in the inbox until the superintendent is given direction under the revised policy.”

Issue arose in March/April  

The issue came up after a local parent filed a formal objection in early March to the recently revised human growth and development curriculum – then withdrew it some 36 hours before a scheduled public hearing on the matter. That hearing, which was to have been part of a committee meeting, was canceled about 48 hours in advance of that April 13 meeting.

The curriculum at issue – colloquially called sex education – underwent changes in the beginning of February; the updated version was then taught February through May to students in grades four and five. As in the past, parents could choose not to have their children attend the lessons, taught by specialized school personnel rather than regular classroom teachers.

View May 25 meeting on ACMi:

The person who filed the objection, and a handful of other residents since then, have publicly questioned the process by which the curriculum changes were made; their content, especially vocabulary changes; or both.

Parents of current fourth and fifth graders were invited to a forum in early February to hear about the updates and the reasoning behind them. Nothing about these revisions has ever yet been presented to the committee, even though curriculum matters of various sorts are addressed at virtually all committee meetings.

In recent weeks, dozens of Arlingtonians have strongly supported the updated curriculum, including the wording revisions. These generally describe the process of puberty in terms of how the relevant body parts are affected, for instance, saying that menstruation is a phenomenon that occurs in a “person who has a uterus” rather than saying “female,” “girl” or “woman.”

School officials when queried by YourArlington earlier this spring said that the terminology was chosen because it includes all students and does not exclude those who may identify as gender-expansive, nonbinary or transgender.

Other decisions made

Magali OlanderMagali Olander, director of SEL and counselingIn other business May 25, the committee:

  • Heard from immediate past committee Chair Liz Exton that she and newest committee member Laura Gitelson are writing a proposed resolution to affirm support for the LGBTQIA+ community;

  • Unanimously approved a resolution that now is to go to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees advocating for more stable funding for METCO, which helps Boston children of color voluntarily attend suburban schools including those in Arlington;

  • Unanimously approved a new contract between the district and an equipment vendor for three years; per state law, no given contract may be longer than three years;

  • Heard a detailed report about summer school from assistant superintendents Alison Elmer and Roderick MacNeal Jr. Different programs are designed to benefit special-education students; English language learners; those considered low-income; and teens in need of credit recovery who might otherwise not be able to graduate high school on time;

  • Heard a brief report about after- and before-school programs at the elementary level from Assistant Superintendent Michael Mason;

  • Heard about four recent managerial-level appointments: Weslie Etienne Pierre in a newly established post – director of communications and family engagement; Magali Olanderas, director of social-emotional learning and counseling; Scott O’Brien, assistant director of high-school counseling; and Jose Farias, assistant director of finance; and

  • Heard the names of a dozen retiring employees read by Superintendent Elizabeth Homan as part of her regular superintendent’s report. Homan said, “We wish them many congratulations and wish them a relaxing and fulfilling retirement.” They are: Marie Bassett, administrative assistant at Ottoson Middle School (OMS); Kim Brennan, teaching assistant at Menotomy Preschool; Pam Byrne, administrative assistant at OMS; Karin Cinar, food services employee at Arlington High School (AHS); Marianne Condon, occupational therapist at Stratton School; Amy Duke, ACE teacher at OMS; Cliff Fallis, custodian at OMS; Janet Maguire, special education teacher at OMS; David Moore, art teacher at AHS; Carolyn Simmons, administrative assistant at AHS; Kim Walls, reading specialist at AHS; and Stephanie Zerchykov, principal at Bracket School.

Amy Kelly, Stratton PrincipalAmy Kelly, principal of Stratton School

Since the May 25, meeting, Homan has also announced these other managerial hires: Matthew Coleman, formerly math director for the past 11 years, as director of research, data and accountability; Amy Kelly, as principal of Stratton School; Erin Spinney, as assistant principal of Bishop School; and Michael Ameral as assistant principal at Brackett School.

April 14, 2023: Gender issues spur parents' complaints, committee policy revision

This news summary by YourArlington Assistant Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

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