School Scraps Gender Pronoun Curriculum in Wake of Threatening Messages

By: Georgia | Published: Jun 03, 2024

Dewitt Public Schools in Michigan planned to offer an optional lesson on gender identity and pronouns to first graders. 

The lesson was designed outside the regular curriculum to encourage “greater understanding, compassion, and kindness regarding gender identity and the use of pronouns.” However, following severe backlash, the school received “inappropriate, angry, and threatening” messages, forcing them to cancel the plans.

Personal Attacks on Staff Following Announcement

Superintendent Shanna Spickard revealed that the backlash extended beyond simple complaints. The district staff suffered personal attacks, with their personal information being posted online to harass and intimidate them.

A female teacher standing in front of a classroom, teaching students with educational posters and a calendar in the background

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This escalated situation led to significant concern for staff safety and well-being within the school environment.


Divided Community Opinions on Gender Discussions in School

Community reactions to the planned lesson were deeply divided. Some parents felt that discussions of gender identity were inappropriate for young children.

A close-up of a whiteboard with "HELLO MY PRONOUNS ARE" written in colorful letters, held by a person

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One DeWitt parent told WILX, “They don’t need to learn about anything that’s personal or sexualized or gender-specific at 5 years old.” Conversely, a former parent supported the initiative, emphasizing inclusion and safety for all students.

Emphasizing the Optional Nature of the Lesson

The school district had clearly communicated to parents and guardians that the lesson was voluntary, providing families the option to opt out.

Neon signs in blue and pink lighting up the words 'BOYS' and 'GIRLS' against a dark background

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This was a part of the school’s effort to respect diverse family beliefs while attempting to educate on inclusivity and respect.

Security Measures Increased Amidst Threats

Following the backlash, the school district liaised with local law enforcement to increase security on campus.

A view of an empty classroom showing desks and a blackboard, illuminated by natural light from the windows

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Superintendent Spickard stated that this measure was necessary due to the nature of the threats which she described as “unacceptable.”

Disruption to School's Educational Mission

The intended educational goal was undermined by the backlash.

An apple on top of stacked books beside blocks spelling 'ABC' and pencils on a desk, symbolizing elementary school education

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Superintendent Spickard commented on the situation, “Unfortunately, it has become a major disruption and distraction to that vision in which our staff, administrators, and students feel unsafe.”


Original Goals for the Lesson

The lesson was intended to align with Dewitt Public Schools’ commitment to a nurturing and supportive educational atmosphere.

A male teacher pointing at geometric formulas written on a blackboard in a classroom while students with notebooks listen attentively, with one boy raising his hand

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Spickard outlined the school’s vision, hoping the lesson would promote a safe learning environment where all learners could succeed.


Emotional Impact on School Staff

The controversy over the planned lesson left many staff members feeling vulnerable.

A teacher in a plaid shirt presenting in front of a diverse group of middle school students in a classroom decorated with educational materials and students' backpacks visible

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Superintendent Spickard highlighted the emotional toll on the staff, stating that several members “have expressed feeling anxious, stressed, and even afraid to go to school.”


Decision to Cancel Amidst Mixed Reactions

The school’s decision to cancel the lesson was met with mixed emotions within the community.

Elementary school students of various backgrounds engaging with laptops and tablets in a colorful classroom setting while a teacher assists them

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Superintendent Spickard acknowledged that this would “please some and disappoint others in the school community.”


Transparent Communication with Parents

Before the backlash escalated, the district had informed all parents about the upcoming lesson and provided them the opportunity to opt out.

Close-up view of the front of a yellow school bus displaying the words "SCHOOL BUS" and red lights

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This approach was meant to ensure full transparency and respect for parental choices in regards to their children’s education.


Continuing Need for Compassion in Education

Despite the cancellation, the school’s objective to foster a compassionate environment remains. 

A teacher with short dark hair helping a young boy with his activity in a classroom, with bookshelves filled with books in the background

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The district believes that discussing topics like gender identity is essential for creating an inclusive environment that respects all students.


Future Educational Endeavors

Looking ahead, Dewitt Public Schools aims to continue its mission of providing a balanced educational experience.

A diverse group of elementary students sitting on the floor, raising their hands enthusiastically to answer a question from a teacher not visible in the shot, in a colorful classroom

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They seek to maintain a safe, inclusive, and supportive learning environment while carefully considering the diverse viewpoints of all community members.