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Parent groups sparring over books on gender identity in Westfield elementary schools

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Posted at 5:28 PM, Apr 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 19:06:57-04

WESTFIELD — Two groups of parents at Westfield Washington Schools are at odds over books on gender identity at the district's six elementary schools.

The groups have launched online petitions and had each gathered about 1,400 signatures by Tuesday afternoon. One side wants school officials to remove seven titles from elementary school libraries and the other is arguing these books are vitally important to children who have questions and may be struggling with their identity.

“It’s just really crossing the line of what we’re comfortable with the school system teaching,” said Kyle Taylor, founding member of Unify Westfield, the group seeking to have seven books removed from lending areas.

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Taylor said he is a father of two boys who go to schools in the district, one attends an elementary school.

“Morals, values, those are different based upon each family’s experiences and religion,” Taylor said. “That’s better left out of a public education system.”

Unify Westfield’s online petition names seven books it says are inappropriate and confusing for elementary-age children. They are:

  • "I am Jazz,"
  • "George,"
  • "It Feels Good to Be Yourself,"
  • "Julian is a Mermaid,"
  • "Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress,"
  • "One of a Kind Like Me," and
  • "They, She, He, Me. Free to Be."

Taylor said his group wants the books taken out of the libraries and other areas where they can be freely accessed and placed in a counselor’s office, where students can request the books along with help for any concerns or questions they might have.

Whitney L. Moore is a mother of three students and is on the board of Westfield Parents for Change. Their petition supporting students' free access says the books are appropriate for children in the elementary grades.

“All children deserve to see themselves in books and to see the world through the windows books provide,” Moore said.

The Parents for Change petition notes that parents in the district can already keep their children from seeing the books by asking the school to restrict access.

“By offering age-appropriate books, the schools are honoring all children and providing a mirror where all students may see themselves or window into a world where they may learn more about others and strengthen their own empathy,” Moore said.

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Elizabeth Akey, director of Psychology Treatment and Research Clinics at Purdue University, said some children need books like these.

“Some children have expressed interests and feelings aligned with a gender other than the one assigned at birth while the kids are still in preschool,” Akey said in an email to WRTV. “I could also ask rhetorically how young is too young for kids to start learning tolerance and acceptance?”

More than 50 people spoke or submitted written comments during Tuesday night's school board meeting.

Ashley White Johnson said during the meeting that students can see themselves, friends or members of their family represented in these books.

"Gender identity and gender expression, much like race, is not a choice," White Johnson said.

Other speakers supported removing the books and urged the board to keep gender identity and other hot-button issues out of the classroom.

"As a mother it is my job to teach sensitive topics to my own children," Abby Penn said during the meeting. "This is not your role."

Alisha Hunter read a statement to the board that was written by her 14-year-old son, who is transgender.

“Right about the age that these kids are being exposed to these books is when he started having issues,” Hunter told WRTV.
Hunter said her son was in fifth grade when he found the courage to talk to his parents about his gender.

Before, she said, he was having emotional problems; he was isolating from peers and family; he had suicidal thoughts.

“He didn’t understand what was going on with himself or how to express it,” Hunter said. “This is something kids need to have access too.”

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at victor.ryckaert@wrtv.com or on Twitter: @vicryc.