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Transgender Kindergarten Lesson has Rocklin Parents Split

ROCKLIN -- How young is too young to introduce a child to the concept of gender identity? That is a question the Rocklin Academy Schools district tried to handle after a young student revealed herself as transgender.

Some parents applauded the district's efforts while others questioned whether it was handled properly.

Ankur Dhawan's 5-year-old daughter was in the classroom that day. She came home and talked about what she learned.

"She said, 'Well, we learned about a girl in a boy's body,'" Dhawan said. "This turned out to be a fairly decent way of introducing a topic that I wouldn't otherwise know to do."

The lesson came after a 5-year-old classmate, whose sex assigned at birth was male, was reintroduced to the class as a girl. Two books were read inside the classroom, both written specifically for young children, to illustrate what it means to be transgender.

"All I heard was my son just mentioned his friend who was a boy is now a girl," parent Chris Hurley said.

While some parents understand why their kids were given the lesson, others who spoke with FOX40 off camera took issue.

"They're concerned that they weren't notified this was coming," Greg Burt, director of capitol engagement with the California Family Council, told FOX40.

School officials say the teacher read the books in class without prior approval from administrators. Parents weren't notified until a week later, when a letter was sent out.

The letter did not include the term "transgender."

"The majority of parents who had children in this kindergarten did not think that it would be age appropriate,” Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus said.

Concerned parents went to the Pacific Justice Institute and the California Family Council to represent them.

"These kids who had never struggled with their gender identity before are all of a sudden scared they could be turned into a boy," Burt said.

After two failed attempts to get the board to address the issue, the board held a special meeting on July 31. The district's presentation, obtained by FOX40, argued that not reading the books would have put them at risk of discrimination and expose them to a potential lawsuit.

District Superintendent Robin Stout says parents were not notified because the books did not fall under opt-out provisions. The books weren't sex education material, Stout says, so the school didn't have to notify parents or give them a chance to opt out for their kids.

"I understand their concerns and we've met with them," Stout said.

The backlash forced Rocklin Academy Schools to change procedures. Now, outside books must be approved.

Parents attended a school board meeting August 21 to discuss the reading material.

"If a book is not part of our curriculum, such as these books, that they'd consult with administration," Stout said.

But at the heart of the issue -- are kindergartners too young to learn what being transgender means?

"Most people have a sense of their gender identity at age 3 or 4," Jo Michael, legislative manager at Equality California, told FOX40.

Michael, a transgender male himself, says early education is key.

"It's important to note that the other students really do need to have that opportunity to engage and hear from the transgender student," he said.

Other experts disagree. American College of Pediatricians President Michelle Cretella says the science is far from conclusive. She told FOX40 in a statement:

"Having an authority figure teach the myth that a child can be trapped in the wrong body will potentially lead to fear that they aren’t the sex their bodies clearly indicate.”

FOX40 spoke with the mother of the student at the center of this case more than once. She declined to speak on camera for fear of backlash but said she's unsure of what to expect for her daughter as she starts the school year, given what has happened over the summer.

One thing all sides do agree on, however, is the school environment should be safe and welcoming for all students.

"One of the lessons my daughter was able to learn was that there's fundamental intelligence, dignity and character to every human regardless of what else might be going on," Dhawan said.

There's currently a petition circulating among some parents demanding the administration make more changes to its policies, including mandatory notices to parents about material that could be seen as controversial.

Stout sent another letter to parents on August 11, and again on August 15.