Teacher defends LGBT kindergarten lesson featured in anti-Mills ad

The Maine kindergarten teacher who made an LGBT-friendly instructional video at the heart of a new Republican attack ad is speaking out, saying the lesson was age-appropriate and that she is disappointed that Gov. Janet Mills removed the video from a Department of Education website.

In a statement she posted to Facebook on Friday, teacher Kailina Mills said the television ad that began running on Maine TV and radio stations on Wednesday has turned her face and her work into a “political football to pass around” without consent or concern for her personal life.

“The most disappointing part of all of this is that the Maine Department of Education and Mills administration caved to pressure instead of standing up for some of the most vulnerable people, families, and students in Maine,” said Mills, who is not related to the governor.

On Wednesday, the day the ad was dropped, the Department of Education and the governor issued separate statements saying the lesson plan entitled “Freedom Holidays” – one of 400 optional video lessons created during the COVID-19 pandemic to engage remote learners – was not appropriate for kindergartners.

“The governor was not aware of the lesson, but she understands the concerns expressed about the age appropriateness, and agrees with the Department of Education’s decision to remove the lesson,” Mills spokeswoman Lindsay Crete said on Wednesday, the day the attack began. .

Mills believes that decisions about what is taught in a classroom should be made by parents, community members, teachers and locally elected school boards, Crete said, noting Maine’s longstanding tradition of local control.

“She will continue to empower parents and elected school boards to make decisions about their kids’ educations,” Crete said, but concluded by noting that Mills “will continue to respect LGBTQ + people as valued members of the Maine community.”

Mills’ office did not respond late Friday to questions about the teacher’s statement and why the governor felt the video was not appropriate.

A spokesperson for the Maine Department of Education, when asked about Kailina Mills’ comments Friday, responded with the same statement the department issued earlier in the week about the video and the online platform it was posted on.

The statement said the video, for which Kailina Mills was paid $ 1,000, “should have received further review by a DOE specialist” before it was posted online.

“A review of the video led the Department to conclude that the lesson is not something we would recommend including as part of kindergarten instruction, and, as such, has been removed from the site,” the statement said.

The video includes an explanation of different gender identities, and the Republican ad attacking Mills focuses on her kindergarten-level description of what it means to be transgender.

“A transgender person is a person who doctors made a mistake about when they were born,” Kailina Mills says in the video, explaining that doctors tell parents if a baby is male or female. “Some people when they get a little bit older realize that what the doctors said was not right.”

Kailina Mills has not responded to requests to be interviewed but on Friday referred the Press Herald to her Facebook post explaining why she believes the topic is entirely age appropriate.

‘PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE FOR EVERYONE’

She said in her post that she has taught preschoolers who are transgender and non-binary and interacted with LGBT parents. Those children and families deserve to be represented in the school curriculum, she said.

“Public schools are for everyone and should, therefore, include everyone,” Mills said.

The former Whitefield Elementary School kindergarten teacher cited a 2020 study that found gender identity is usually established by first grade, and that almost all transgender individuals involved in the study had experienced the significant stress of wanting to be another gender by that time.

That stress should not be taken lightly, Mills said. Data show 82 percent of transgender individuals have considered taking their own lives, and 40 percent have attempted to do so, she said. Transgender youth are the most likely to commit suicide, studies show.

“Using accurate pronouns and receiving affirmation from families, teachers, peers and doctors is suicide prevention,” Mills said. “This affirmative care must begin as early as kindergarten because that’s when children are solidifying their gender identity.”

Just because a topic may be hard to discuss does not mean that children are not ready for it, she said.

“My goal as a teacher is to teach students how to interact across differences with kindness and respect,” Mills said. first place. ”

Erasing one form of difference from the curriculum is discrimination, Mills said.

If Republicans had objected to the Juneteenth part of her “Freedom Holidays” unit because it celebrated Black people, the Department of Education and the governor might have reacted differently because they would have known it was discrimination, Mills said.

“Why are Republicans’ attacks on LGBT + children and families any different?” Mills asked. “It is incredibly disappointing to see the MDOE and the Mills administration cave to that pressure. Our students deserve better than this. Our students deserve an inclusive community for all. ”

DESIRE FOR INCLUSIVE CLASSROOMS

Many groups that support transgender people would like to see the Maine Department of Education issue evidence-based, stakeholder-informed educational guidelines and sample lessons on how K-8 teachers should talk about gender divergent people as part of building inclusive classrooms, said Quinn Gormley , the executive director of MaineTrans.Net, an organization that works to empower transgender people.

Gormley said she is not 100 percent happy with the content of the “Freedom Holidays” video because it tells children that a transgender person is somebody “who the doctors made a mistake about when they were born.” But she said she was grateful that Kailina Mills tried her best to celebrate the community, and that she hoped the video would provoke the state to issue guidelines so a well-intentioned teacher trying to promote inclusivity wasn’t “hung out to dry” by Republicans on the attack or Democrats on the defense.

“I think she did a lot right,” Gormley said. “I’m glad she did it and I’m glad it existed and I hope it creates an opportunity to do better.”

While Mills is upset with the state removal of the video, Gormley said she does not think the decision is indicative of the governor’s support for LGBT students in Maine.

“We know she has their backs,” Gormley said. “This was political maneuvering and some very technical concerns about the content, which is classic Janet Mills. She can sometimes not see the big picture and focuses on technical policy instead. I wish this was not a conversation being had in the press, because it’s terrifying for the LGBTQ constituents not knowing exactly why Maine is pulling the video, but I know she will work with us to improve LGBTQ recognition in the schools. ”

Gormley said the organization is afraid of Republicans’ willingness to incite anti-LGBTQ sentiment as part of America’s culture wars, especially when it involves children. She said it is scaring young people who participate in MaineTrans.Net programs, and it is also scaring teachers who are hungry for information about how to talk about these issues in the classroom so that all students can learn in a non-threatening environment.

The “Freedom Holidays” video is the subject of the Republicans’ first TV ad of the state’s governor’s race. The one-minute culture-war hit piece criticizes the Mills administration for using tax dollars to fund pro-LGBTQ lesson plans.

“Is this really what our kids should be learning in kindergarten instead of math, science and reading?” the narrator asks after a clip from “Freedom Holidays” is played. “Janet Mills’ radical agenda is just wrong for our kids and for Maine.”

NOT STATE-MANDATED

The ad claims that the Mills administration used $ 2.8 million in tax dollars to create the video, but that was how much the Mills administration spent developing the online instructional video library known as MOOSE, or Maine Online Opportunities for Sustained Education.

MOOSE is not a state-mandated curriculum. No teacher or school district was required to use the Freedom Holidays lesson plan, and it is unclear how many did. MOOSE is made up of free, project-based lesson plans created by Maine teachers for optional use by other Maine teachers.

The online hub is undergoing a previously scheduled review by Department of Education staff, a spokesman said. It is part of a plan to update the lesson plans created in the first year of the pandemic and to consider new material created by teachers for the coming school year.

Produced by a Virginia company, the “Radical Lessons” to buy – the first of at least $ 4 million the Maine Republican Party plans to spend – cost about $ 94,000, campaign finance records show. This month, the Democratic Governors Association announced a $ 5 million TV campaign.

The large fundraising totals so far – Mills has raised $ 2.7 million to date and former Gov. Paul LePage has raised $ 1.3 million – suggest this showdown between an incumbent Democrat and a two-term Republican could become the most expensive governor’s race in Maine history.

The “Radical Lessons” ad message appeals to the socially conservative Republican base that took center stage at the Republican Party Convention in Augusta this month. Republican delegates voted from the floor to add anti-LGBTQ language to the platform.

Maine Republicans have criticized Democrats for trying to distract Maine voters from pocketbook issues by focusing on emotional issues like abortion, but the Maine Republican ad is quick to remind voters of the culture wars playing out at school board meetings across the nation.

Staff writer Rachel Ohm contributed to this report.


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