California School District Reaffirms Support for Teacher Who Read Transgender Books

JazzIn front of a standing-room-only crowd of about 500 people, a public charter school system in Rocklin, California reaffirmed this week that a kindergarten teacher’s in-class reading of two transgender-themed picture books was in line with district policy. However, the Rocklin Academy Family of Schools (RAFOS) also promised going forward to “try and notify parents of any controversial or sensitive topics being discussed in class.” CBLDF joined the National Coalition Against Censorship in defending the school’s reading policy.

This past June, a kindergarten teacher at Rocklin Academy Gateway read I Am Jazz and Red: A Crayon’s Story out loud to her students in order to help them understand a classmate’s gender transition. The student herself had brought I Am Jazz, co-written by Jessica Herthel and transgender teen Jazz Jennings with illustrations by Shelagh McNicholas, to share with the class.

According to a fact sheet on the RAFOS website, the district has a longstanding practice of “allow[ing] children to bring in books to classrooms to be read that are of interest to them or help classmates understand their heritage or culture.” I Am Jazz also appears on the California Department of Education’s Recommended Literature List for grades K-2. Later that day, the teacher also chose to read Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, about a blue crayon that has been mislabeled as red.

Most of the students themselves reacted calmly to the books and their classmate’s transition, but some of their parents are another matter. Rumors have been flying on social media that the routine storytime was staged as a “coming-out party” for the girl, and at least 14 families have pulled their children from the school. Others have requested the ability to “opt out” their children from being in the same class as transgender students, which RAFOS explained would constitute illegal discrimination.

Due to intense community interest in Monday night’s school board meeting, RAFOS held it in a ballroom with a capacity of 500 people. According to the Sacramento Bee, the crowd divided itself not only ideologically but also physically on opposite sides of the room, and the meeting “included three hours of emotional, often tearful, testimony from parents, students, activists and community members.”

Previously RAFOS had maintained that gender identity does not fall under the umbrella of sex education or any other topic that would require parental notification, so it is unclear exactly how “controversial or sensitive topics” will be defined under the newly adopted policy.

Nevertheless, the board did reaffirm the practice of allowing students to bring in books of personal significance to share with the class and board member Larry Steiner pleaded with parents and community members to “let this end tonight,” saying that RAFOS faculty and staff are concerned about the vitriol that has festered on social media over the issue.

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.