DENVER — As the Colorado State Board of Education gets closer to finalizing new social studies standards for Colorado students that could include additional references to LGBTQ and BIPOC communities in curriculum for students in the 4th grade or below, parents and groups are vocalizing their opinions on the issue.
“We're at a period where the state board of education is going to be considering for the next several months whether or not they are going to include these standards, whether or not they think that LGBTQ folks should be included in curriculum,” said Garrett Royer, deputy director of One Colorado, an LGBTQ advocacy group. “We've been making sure that we are engaging with the LGBTQ community and with parents and allies to make sure that the voices of the community are heard.”
A committee made up of educators from across the state initially suggested several additions to social studies standards for students in the 4th grade and younger that would have included more references to the LGBTQ and BIPOC communities.
But after receiving feedback from parents and groups who were against the additions, the committee removed many of its suggestions.
The Colorado State Board of Education can adopt the new standards as they are currently written or amend them to include some of the original committee suggestions that have since been edited out.
In response to the committee’s amended proposal, One Colorado has been helping parents and students sign up to give testimony before the board in support of LGBTQ references.
“I think representation matters…. Young kids are just sort of discovering their own identity and by telling them that it's inappropriate to be a certain way, it's telling them that they should be quiet about that part of who they are. And we know that that has long-term repercussions. It means that can lead to mental health issues that can lead to suicidal ideation,” Royer said.
Royer said One Colorado is also pushing back on opinions that link LGBTQ references to sexual education.
“I don't think it's any different from, you know, fourth-graders knowing that their teacher is in a loving relationship with a man or a woman,” Royer said. “We know that below grade four, these students are not learning about same-sex relationships in a sexual manner. They're not learning about heterosexual relationships in a sexual manner.”
But some Coloradans think mentioning the LGBTQ community will lead to conversations about sex.
“The Independence Institute feels that at the lower levels, it's not appropriate to bring in that particular topic. Especially since in Colorado, sex education — a comprehensive sex education — isn't even allowed in schools until fourth grade. But the original version of the standards actually started at first grade by introducing the term LGBTQ,” said Pam Benigno, education policy center director at the Independence Institute.
Benigno said parents with children who identify as LGBTQ should introduce learning materials that include LGBTQ references at home.
“I would say that parents have the opportunity to provide books that include LGBTQ students, but that those parents also need to respect the right of other parents who may be uncomfortable with their children reading books, at such an early age on that topic,” Benigno said. “It's so crucial that parents are involved in their children's education, and that their personal family values be respected through the process.”
Benigno said she hopes the suggested standards remain as they are currently written while Royer hopes the board reconsiders the amendments.
The board will make a final decision in November.