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"Not LGBTQ" Curriculum Controversy Misunderstood

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FNSB School District
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The English and Language Arts Curriculum for high school juniors and seniors in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District is up for revision. The school board this week heard a report about the months of work put in by a parent and staff committee. But the report was met with more than an hour of testimony from community members either praising the update or fearful of it.

The district regularly examines and updates the curricula, and it’s done in chunks. For example, Math was done in 2015, Science and PE in 2016 and Art and Music in 2017. This year it is English and Language Arts. The 7th to 10th grade curricula was approved in April, and now the classes for 11th and 12th graders are on the agenda.

Melanie Hadaway, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning gave a report to the board Tuesday night.

“It outlines what students are expected to study and learn, but provides options for how. For literature courses, the goal of the class is that the learner will comprehend, analyze and engage with a variety of increasingly complex literary texts. That’s what we want students to learn.”

She detailed the public process that started in 2019 with Community Listening sessions, teacher reviews, parent comments and eventually produced this fifth draft.

Viletta (Veyeletta) Knight was glad that under-represented themes and authors would be added in the new course options.

“We are a biracial family, I am black and my husband’s white. African Americans have been sorely underrepresented in literature in the district. So, I am encouraged to see this addressed. I’m also glad to see these recommendations are elective, not required reading. In this volatile time in our nation, it’s time to show by example to our children and grandchildren what diversity looks like.”

Mary Burtness is a former teacher with the district. She said the curriculum with diverse authors created better citizens.

The options for literature courses truly provide a diverse number of authors that reflect the student body. It is so important that a student can read authors that mirror their background, heritage and culture. They need to be able to relate to the triumphs and struggles as portrayed by people like them.

Four (4) English/language arts credits are required for graduation. The revised curriculum is on the school district’s website. To graduate, high school students need to take one Writing Intensive Class like Composition, Journalism or Creative Writing.

And they need complete two literature courses, one of which is an American Literature class, such as

AP English Language and American Literature

 African American Literature

Native American Literature

American Literature: Defining Freedom with books like: The Crucible by Arthur Miller, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass, Our Town by Thornton Wilder.

American Literature: Shifting Dreams, with a books like: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

For the second required class, students can take another American Literature class, or an elective course, like:

AP Literature and Composition

British Literature

Holocaust Literature

Social Themes in Literature

World Literature.

For the fourth credit, students must complete one elective, which may be an additional literature or writing intensive course. Not every elective will be offered at every school.

Hadaway told the board it is that Social Themes in Literature class that has an option for kids to read books by Lesbian, Gay, BiSexual, Trans, Queer + authors.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation about what is and what isn’t included in this curriculum. Simply put, there is no LGBTQ curriculum. The course description for Social Themes in Literature does indeed state that students who choose this class will read texts “written by an about people who have been historically underrepresented in the literary canon.” There are several examples of groups that fall under this umbrella and the options and one of those six is indeed LGBTQ+.”

Most of the public comment comes to the board as email, and is read into the record. Quite a bit of the testimony focused on something that was not there, which surprised and frustrated newly sworn-in board member, April Smith.

I really felt compelled to comment on this, because of my own misunderstanding of this curriculum. I went through every book on the list. I found the storylines compelling, interesting, and I expected to find book after book about LGBTQ themes. And I did not find that.

Smith said she had not kept up with the drafts as they were revised since January, and she suspected from reading emailed comments that many anti-LGBTQ parents had not understood the changes to the curriculum.

“By the testimony, it clearly is not clarified to the community. I mean, to the point that, testimonies are about to be read here that are almost irrelevant, if you actually read the curriculum.”

No action was taken after hearing two hours of report and comments. The board will take up approval of the English and Language Arts Curriculum for 11th and 12th graders at their regular meeting on November 17.