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10Listens: Sevier Co. Schools says letter over 'gender identity' lesson making rounds on social media is an example, not a real class

The example letter was shared on social media hundreds of times with people upset in the comments. The school system said the letters exist to comply with state law.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — The Sevier County school system is trying to clear up confusion after a picture of a letter template that schools are required to send out over sexuality and gender curriculum went viral on Facebook because people misunderstood what they were looking at.

The post in question contained a picture of a blank, unsigned letter from the school system. It was a notice it is required to send out to parents whenever a class or lesson contains topics of "sexual orientation or gender identity." 

The letter template contained an example class in the top line, "Ex. Gender Identity/Fall 2022," with the example lesson, "Ex. Unity 3, Lesson 6, "'The Farm.'"  

Credit: WBIR/Facebook

The post was shared hundreds of times with people in the comments mistaking the example as if the class was actually being taught. The school system said the example listed in the top line is intended only as a placeholder.

"As the document indicates, these are simply example placeholders that are intended to be deleted by the teacher when they enter legitimate lessons and topics prior to sending them to parents," SCS Assistant Superintendent Tony Ogle said.

In 2020, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a law that requires schools to send a notice to parents when any subject taught contains topics of "sexual orientation or gender identity." Parents are allowed to examine the course materials and can excuse their child from that portion of the class if they submit a written request to the school.

Ogle said students can receive "alternative lessons" if the family prefers, which he said has been a longstanding policy within the school system. 

"We always strive to be in full compliance of state laws and to have forthright conversations with parents who have concerns, and this form is an example of how we are ensuring these processes. If parents who receive such a letter ask for an alternative assignment for their child, that request would be granted," he said.

Ogle said the letters are typically used for humanities classes on the high school level where "context for historical events or characters are going to be discussed when applicable given state standards in those courses."

Ogle said he has seen the form posted to social media in reference to lessons being taught about the historical context of LGBTQ+ movements. He said those courses are included in the Tennessee Board of Regents requirements for U.S. history.

The Tennessee Legislature in recent years has ramped up efforts to pass anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, including laws limiting instruction in classrooms. Most recently, lawmakers passed a bill that lets a politically appointed panel remove books from public school libraries statewide through a new veto power over local school board decisions.

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