Mystery group seeks all the sex education details from local schools

Fatima Fokina

A mysterious group seeking specifics about what kids are being taught about sex and sexuality in the state’s public schools has been sending FOIL requests to upstate New York school districts for sex education materials produced since the start of the pandemic.

The “Parents Union” on Monday sent freedom of information (FOIL) requests to about a dozen upstate New York districts and BOCES organizations, most of them in the Capital Region, requesting information about what schools are teaching elementary and middle school children about sexuality and “critical race theory.”

Despite the reference to “critical race theory,” the document primarily seeks curricula mentioning “gender and sexuality, LGBTQ, differentiating between sexual orientation, gender identity, genitalia, reproduction, gender expression, social-emotional learning (SEL), transgender hormone treatment.”

The request also inquires about any requirements for health and physical education instructors to define various specific sex acts, including masturbation, vaginal sex, oral sex and anal sex.

School leaders say they are unsure of the origins of the FOIL request. The “Parents Union” does not appear to be affiliated with a national organization of the same name which advocates for transparency in pandemic relief aid spending, or the New York City Parents Union which fights for educational equity.

The group pops up at a time when a moral panic gripping the nation over LGBTQ education has begun to filter down to local school boards. 

Jay Worona, counsel for the New York State School Boards Association, said school leaders in every state are having similar conversations with the public about the substance of their curriculums. 

While these FOIL requests appear to be politically motivated, schools leaders are advised to respond as best they can.

“The theory is that if there’s information that one has, it might be better not to fight but to give information. If they are asking for something that is confidential or that is not readily accessible, obviously, they’d have to think long and hard about how to provide that information,” Worona said. 

The national debate over LGBTQ inclusivity in public schools has simmered for years, boiling over into state legislative houses with each new presidential administration. The Obama administration in 2016 directed schools to allow students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identities, citing a federal law that protects students from gender discrimination. 

When the Trump administration rescinded that guidance, then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman clarified that discrimination and harassment toward LGBTQ individuals was still prohibited by state and local laws. New York education officials have published guidance to districts on how to best support transgender and non-gender conforming youth. 

Like anti-critical race theory legislation cropping up across the country, many states are debating bills restricting the discussion of sexuality and gender identity in public schools.

Some local schools have recently reaffirmed their support for gay and transgender youth after the state of Florida passed a bill banning LGBTQ instruction in younger grades.

Dubbed by critics the “Don’t Say Gay” law, the legislation prohibits school districts from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity before the third grade, or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” – language critics say is vague and leaves room to restrict LGBTQ-inclusive conversation in upper grades.


New York’s Education Department also recently launched a statewide push for schools to revise their diversity, equity and inclusion policies, which some parents misconstrued as a campaign to indoctrinate students with “critical race theory.”

In December 2020, New York passed a law requiring all single-occupancy bathrooms in public places, including schools, to be designated gender-neutral. 

It doesn’t appear that the Parents Union is going away anytime soon, and similar conversations are playing out on parent forums across the state. 

In response to the Parents Union FOIL request, a Bethlehem Central School District FOIL officer stated all curriculum is aligned with the appropriate state learning standards and linked to a state Education Department website. The filer immediately appealed. 

https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/As-anti-LGBTQ-laws-gain-traction-nationally-17058465.php

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