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California school district doubles down on gender identity indoctrination after parents' complaint

"I'm not sure how or why you would think that an eight year old could understand what transgender even means," a father told the Conejo Valley school board.

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Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY
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A California family in the Conejo Valley Unified School District was horrified to learn that their daughter had been exposed to harmful gender ideology in her third grade classroom, against their wishes and without their being notified. They only found out about it when the little girl came home and told her parents that a little girl in her class had been reintroduced to the students with a new, boy's name. The teacher had read the class a book about a "trans child" to help explain things.

The teacher used the book to explain that boys and girls were not unique sexes, but interchangeable. The story, Call Me Max, explains to children that sex is something adults decide about a baby upon birth, and that a child then can decide later that the adults who made that decision were wrong. The book tracks a little girl who dresses like a boy, and describes that this, along with internal, undefined feelings, means the child is actually a boy.

The reasons given by the little girl in the story for believing she is a boy and not a girl include that she likes climbing trees, "looking for gross bugs," doesn't like wearing dresses, and that she doesn't feel like a girl "on the inside." The girl called Max said that she feels like a boy "on the inside." Just what that feeling is, or how to identify it, is not explained.

The child is ushered into a group of "trans" kids, all of whom have this understanding of gender as an innate and personal inner feeling. This lesson accompanied the introduction of the child with a new name and gender.

Steve Schneider's child goes to the school. He voiced his concern about gender identity being pushed on third graders without any prior notification. And while he attempted to reach out in person, there was no direct communication from the school or the district.

He and other parents made their views known at a recent school board meeting. While members of the community who supported the district's gender indoctrination plans were reached for comment via phone, many parents showed up at the meeting to speak their minds.

The parents were able to speak to the Board during the public comment period of the June 14 school board meeting.

Schneider spoke at that meeting, saying that he had no shame in standing for what he believed in. "No matter your position, I think we can all agree that schools need to include parents before teaching things other than basic education.

"I came to CV USD in the past and voiced my concerns only to be brushed away like I meant nothing. There was no inclusion then, there's no inclusion now. I'm not sure how or why you would think that an eight year old could understand what transgender even means," Schneider said.

He spoke about the Call Me Max video, saying that it only confused his daughter more. "I wonder if people consider this or if you had discussed inclusion in one breath and in the other you exclude parents." He referenced the other parents in attendance to cheers from the crowd.

"I received an overwhelming amount of support in the last few weeks including parents with kids in the same class as my daughter," he said. "The quiet ones are starting to speak up and you should be concerned."

Schneider cautioned the Board to heed the parents and their concerns. "You have a tough decision to make, that's on you," he said. "We've all taken oaths in our lives but none more meaningful than the oath to our children. I asked every parent and teacher that believes in something: if something's wrong, stand up and say something. Not only is it our right to be involved, but it's our duty."

Joelle Mancuso, the head of Mama Bears, also spoke out at the June 14 meeting. She said that it was clear that parents in the community want to know what materials "will be presented to our students. Books on gender transitions in elementary school, and presented without parental knowledge, crossed the line for most parents."

"Recently," Mancuso said, "the community discovered that the materials in the book Call Me Max was shown in a third grade classroom, to eight, nine year olds, without parental knowledge. When a hugely nuanced situation presents itself in a classroom, don't we have an obligation to inform parents of all the children who are in the class? How exactly are we honoring the one child, and this family, by not informing the parents and guardians of the rest of the children that are in the class?" she asked the Board.

"Involved parents desire to discuss weighty issues such as gender transition at home with their young children," she went on. "Specifically mentioned on page five of a Call Me Max, the idea is presented that the parents of Max made a mistake when he was born. What a scary idea to unleash on a child in a class without informing parents first.

"The weight of this issue should not be put on teachers' shoulders. This is a board issue. This school board has oversight on everything in the classrooms and you're accountable to the parents, grandparents and community members who elected you to fill those seats. Everything [that] happens in those classrooms is your responsibility and we want to be crystal clear on what the Board's policy is moving forward.

"How is this book selected? Is it worth noting that this book is not available at the [Thousand Oaks] library? Will a material list be furnished to parents that includes links to sites, books or videos that may be presented in the classroom?

"It's not okay to exclude or dismiss parents from the conversation on these very important identity issues nor is it constructive to negatively label parents when they just want to be informed. And dedication, excellence happens when parents, teachers, and children are working with each other, not against each other," Mancuso said.

In a letter to parents sent by the Superintendent Mark McLaughlin in May, he told the community that while the book Call Me Max was not part of the standard curriculum, it was taught as part of the teacher's responsibility to "create inclusive learning environments," which included the affirmation of student identities.

Schneider had reached out to the principal of the school after the incident with the book, which was in January, about what his daughter learned in class about gender identity, pronouns, and changing sex. His primary concern, he told The Post Millennial, was that parents did not have the option to opt-out and were not even notified before the book was shared. "The school basically took my right to choose for my child," he said.

"The principal turned her back and walked away from me," he said, "I couldn't even hold a conversation with her. That's why I went to the school district. We've tried to reach out. There's no communication."

He took the matter to the school board, but they also had no time for his concerns that his parental rights had been violated. Without malice or animosity towards the family of the child who was introduced with a new name, but with a keen interest in understanding why this was done without parental notification, Schneider continued to ask questions.

Then came the local backlash against him personally.

Yet the Schneider family wasn't the only one that was upset with the school's behavior. "Other parents that I've spoke with that are in that classroom, yes, they're upset," he said. At a party for the friend of one of his daughters, he heard directly, if quietly, from other parents who are intimidated to come forward due to backlash from local activist parents.

"Some of the parents approached me and said that they were upset with the school. They were upset that they weren't brought into the mix of what was going on and they had to learn from their child," he said.

What he found is that the community he and his family felt part of, the school that felt special, was willing to turn on him just for questioning the gender identity indoctrination that was pushed in his daughter's classroom. Schneider said that the parents he spoke to "are afraid that this school, what once was special, is now a potential target. I hope that's not the case. We all love and want to protect our children."

"You have two sides to this," he said. "I think that almost everyone agrees that this was the wrong way for the school to handle it. And on the other side of it, some of my comments were distasteful and I do regret a few of the things that I said."

He's referring to comments he made that graphically depicted worries over the medicalized gender transition of minors, who he feels are not able to make the kinds of life altering decisions that come with the application of puberty blockers, cross sex hormones, and even genital and breast surgeries.

"When our children are born, every parent looks at their kid and— we don't even have to say it out loud— made a promise. We're going to love our kids. We're going to take care of our kids. We're going to jump in front of a train if we have to for our kids, we will do whatever it takes to protect them. The parents of the other child, I'm sure he said the same thing.

In response to the questions Schneider raised, the Superintendent sent out a letter to the school community. The "Message on Inclusion and Unity in the Face of Adversity" missive read that "In the Conejo Valley Unified School District we proudly serve ALL students and even more proudly affirm to be a place where ALL students belong."

Without naming names, Superintendent Mark McLaughlin expressed his "great sadness and frustration" about "very inaccurate and hurtful statements" that "were posted on social media about other Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) schools.

"At this point," he went on, "it needs to be made very clear that CVUSD students and staff are not pawns in the game of politics. I will not let certain individuals from within our community, plus a local publication (the name of which is intentionally omitted from this letter), spread falsehoods about our students, families, staff, schools, and local school district without fighting back with facts and information."

McLaughlin complained about the article and the local outlet, and linked the article to graffiti that was painted on the school one day after the article in the Conejo Guardian came out. McLaughlin complained that the article was "factless," and that the act of graffiti was "not isolated, but one of several recent concerning incidents within our community."

To back up his assertion, he said that there was a "a social media post from a possible school board candidate criticized Redwood Middle School for information the school provided in support of National Pride Month. This developing pattern of intolerance is deplorable."

McLaughlin described all the ways that parents could get involved in the school, saying that they "remain focused on keeping families informed and staying connected to the community we serve." He did not directly address Schneider's claim that the school was particularly disinterested in speaking with him about the incident, or their apparent unwillingness to engage with him.

"The written piece that was printed by the local publication referred to a single classroom lesson in one classroom that took place in January," McLaughin said. "This lesson was not part of any specific curriculum but was intended to fulfill this teacher's professional responsibility to create environments that are free of harassment and discrimination, for all students."

"It is imperative for our community to know facts," McLaughlin wrote before touching on the incident. "First, sexuality and gender identity are not instructional content in elementary standards or curriculum. Second, we do have legal and professional responsibilities to create inclusive learning environments, which does mean actions that affirm students' identities. Fulfilling these responsibilities means that at Maple Elementary and across all District schools we: use inclusive language, use an individual's names and pronouns, and create a gender affirming classroom and school environments."

McLaughlin invoked the legal standards for this practice, namely the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Act, that has been part of California's Education Code since 2012.

As such, the school, McLaughlin said, has "provided training to all elementary teachers and administrators, including Maple staff, on how to support our gender diverse students. This training informed teachers that we are not explicitly teaching students about gender as teaching about gender is not part of any approved District elementary curriculum."

The training does show, he stated, that "teachers have a legal obligation to create inclusive environments for all students - including our gender diverse students, in which we appropriately use student's personal pronouns, intervene to address bullying/harassment, and send positive messages to all students that everyone is welcome for who they are."

"The most important fact to be taken away from this message," McLaughlin wrote, emphasis his own, "is that the Conejo Valley USD will not be deterred from supporting and welcoming ALL students. It is through the fostering of inviting environments that we help to ensure students feel safe, included and truly part of the CVUSD family, which allows them to learn and grow as scholars and importantly as individuals within our classroom walls."

"Hate has no place in the CVUSD," he concluded.

But for local parents, things are not so cut and dry. Mancuso said that "The school admin is lying."

"They pushed a corrosive video onto students without parental consent," Mancuso said. "They are ignoring this and trying to lob disingenuous statements of 'unity.' This taxpayer funded school must immediately answer why 3rd graders are being exposed to this drivel without parents knowing."

It's not just that parents are upset at how things went down in school, or the way the principal then responded to a parent's concerns, but they are afraid. After this happened, there was graffiti targeting the school. The mass murder at Robb Elementary in Uvalde happened. And it was only two years ago that a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, at the Borderline Bar and Grill, took place. The fabric of their small community seems to be tearing apart.

"I think myself like many other parents were asleep at the wheel in 2020," Schneider said. "Everything sucked for everybody. And we had to endure a lot, and in our own way. And I think it's time that we call this quits as a people and say, enough is enough. Obviously there's enough people behind this that believe that there is something that needs to be addressed."

At this point, Schneider and other parents who are backing him have heard a lot about "inclusion," but they want to know why the school did something without their consent. "This is about parental rights," he said, "they can't take that away. And if 'inclusion' means everybody, where is my 'inclusion' and where is it for my daughter?"

Schneider encourages others who may feel similar frustrations to work the appropriate hierarchy and come share their thoughts at the last school board meeting on June 21. "Everybody who has something to say should show up. I intend to show up and I'll tell you exactly why. Parents must be willing to make the schools accountable for what is landing in front of our children."

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