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Parents push back against elementary schools’ decision to share book about transgender child

A school district in Ann Arbor, Mich., is under fire from elementary school parents after making the decision to air a videotaped book reading about the story of transgender child Jazz Jennings to their young students without parental consent.

According to a local Michigan publication M Live, the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH) decided to team up with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) on a day dedicated to school and community readings of the book I Am Jazz. Written by HRC Youth Ambassador Jennings and author Jessica Herthel, the book is a first-person account about being transgender, which is used by schools to help introduce children to transgender issues. However, more than 1,600 people within the Saline Area School District don’t want their children to be made acquainted with that topic — in this case, in the form of a videotaped book reading — while at school.

“We are very concerned about showing ‘I Am Jazz,’ a movie about a child’s transgender experience, to our elementary school children,” a letter addressed to the district and attached to a petition created by parents reads. “As parents, we understand that some people in our community suffer with gender dysphoria, and our hearts go out to those children and families who struggle with this. However, as a district we can teach about kindness and anti-bullying and still respect our community’s diverse beliefs about this topic. This is where the movie clip fails.”

The clip in question is a four-minute YouTube video made by the Washtenaw County Health Department, which features community members reading the children’s book. And although the district decided to show it to all elementary schools on Friday, parents are claiming that they didn’t receive proper communication informing them of this.

“Parents were not made explicitly aware of this YouTube clip showing. The announcement of it was buried in routine emails about weekly news, sent from principals at the school. Nor were parents offered an opt-out if they preferred their children not see the film,” the petition reads.

The petition goes on to illustrate the strong positions that parents might have on this “moral debate,” including on the basis of religious beliefs. Therefore, the parents asked the district to “please reconsider showing this to every young child in our district.”

Despite the plea, Saline Area’s Superintendent Scot Graden tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the video was shown. He provided the following statement.

The Washtenaw County Task Force on Transgender Youth, in partnership with the Washtenaw County Health Department, has produced a video of various members of the greater Washtenaw community reading a children’s book about a transgender student. The County and District’s goal is to support a positive school and community environment that recognizes the differences amongst all of us. We have transgender students in our elementary buildings. It is important that all students are supported on a daily basis. We do understand that showing the I Am Jazz video created by the Washtenaw County Health Department has been a catalyst for much discussion and debate on social media networks and venues throughout the District. We have certainly heard from parents and community members both supportive and opposed regarding showing the I Am Jazz video. We recognize that some parents would have liked a more direct notification and an opportunity for more dialogue about this matter. We have responded to make sure that all parents who wish for their child to participate in a 10 minute alternative activity are able to do so. We have heard your concerns. Moving forward, we will improve our communication.

The district’s Board of Education President Tim Austin additionally points out that “With 5,250 students plus parents it becomes difficult to navigate these sensitive subjects.” However, he hopes that parents acknowledge the ability to opt their children out of the viewing as an example of tolerance, acceptance and awareness being a “two-way street.”

The Washtenaw County Health Department tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “Our responsibility is to foster the best health possible for all in our community. Creating supportive and inclusive environments where youth, including the many transgender youth in our community, can thrive is part of this work. We’ve seen the backlash, but we continue to stand strong in our support of the visibility and health of transgender students.”

The petition’s creator and MOASH did not immediately reply to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. The HRC has already scheduled their next National “I Am Jazz” School and Community Readings day for Feb. 28.

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