Fact Check

Fairfax Schools Gender Identity Lessons Controversy

Published Jul 21, 2015

FACT CHECK:   Are Fairfax County schools adding mandatory sex ed curricula with topics such as oral and anal sex, incest, and bestiality?

Claim:   Fairfax County schools are updating their sex ed curricula to include lessons on oral and anal sex, bestiality, and incest.


WHAT'S TRUE:   In May 2015, Fairfax County schools updated a nondiscrimination policy to include transgender individuals. Additionally, sex education curriculum was updated with a definition of transgender in high school lessons. WHAT'S FALSE:   Gender identity curriculum wasn't added to middle or grade school lessons, and that curriculum does not cover oral and anal sex, bestiality, or the sexual proclivities of Bill Clinton.

Examples:  [Collected via Twitter, July 2015]

Origins:    On 10 June 2015, the evangelical news site CBN published an article titled "Gender Identity Curriculum Angers Parents in Virginia." Quoting Traditional Values Coalition president Andrea Lafferty, the original version of the article claimed:

Public schools in Fairfax County, Virginia, are preparing to include gender identity in its curriculum, despite objections from parents.

The district's Family Life Education (FLE) lessons will include teachings on heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual, and transgender identity. The school board voted in May to add gender identity to the list.

"Starting in kindergarten, students will be taught about same-sex or gay marriage and the parents will not be able to opt out," Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition, told CBN News.

Lafferty said students in 8th grade will be discussing President Bill Clinton's "activity, along with oral and anal." Fourth graders will receive instruction about incest, she said.

Many of the claims were reiterated in a video published to CBN's Facebook page on 14 June 2015 (and a flyer distributed by the Traditional Values Coalition uploaded to Scribd):

The New Public School Sex-Ed: Oral, Anal, and Incest

URGENT PRAYER NEEDED: Please join us in praying for America's public school system. Parents no longer have the right to opt outof explicit sex-ed programs in elementary and middle schools. Starting as young as kindergarten, students will be taught about gay-marriage. The older students will be introduced to "oral and anal" sex, and incest.The goal is to teach students about homosexual, bisexual, and transgender identity.MORE on this story here: https://go.cbn.com/877**If you are a parent or know a child attending public school, please join us in praying. May God flood public schools across the nation with his presence and unadulterated truth.

Posted by CBN News on Sunday, June 14, 2015

In the video, Lafferty claimed that up to 200 parents were locked out of a vote held in regards to the curriculum changes, but that claim has not been substantiated. In an updated article dated 6 July 2015, CBN elided many of their original claims and added:

CBN News is investigating the issue further as well as unconfirmed statements made by Traditional Values Coalition President Andrea Lafferty during an interview on this matter posted on our website June 10, 2015.

In the above-excerpted portion of the article (since edited out, but intact in circulating versions) quoted above, CBN appeared to conflate proposed updates to Fairfax County Schools Family Life Education (FLE) with a May 2015 decision by the district to include gender identity in their nondiscrimination policy. In an undated update titled "Statement from Fairfax County School Board Chair Tamara Derenak Kaufax on Adding Gender Identity to Nondiscrimination Policy," the district stated:

The decision by the Fairfax County School Board to add "gender identity" to our nondiscrimination policy is to provide an environment which promotes equality where every student and employee is treated with dignity and respect. This tells our students and staff that school and the Fairfax County Public Schools workplace are places where they can be safe from harassment and discrimination. The School Board has taken this proactive step to protect our students and staff from discrimination.

On March 4, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said local school boards have the authority under state law to include gender identity in their non-discrimination policies. The U.S. Department of Education has told school districts that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX and has recently required some school districts including Alexandria, Virginia, to amend their policies to expressly include gender identity.

No decisions have yet been made regarding accommodations that will be provided under the revised policy. Our next step will be to hire a consultant to assist in developing appropriate regulations that protect the rights of all students and comply with state and federal law.

Lafferty told CBN that parents would not be able to opt out of the curriculum on behalf of their children, although a second undated statement from the district titled "Recommended Family Life Education Instructional Materials Available for Community Review Through June 19" explained:

Fairfax County Public Schools will make recommended family life education (FLE) objectives, media, and instructional materials available for community review through June 19.

Revisions to lesson objectives include moving some objectives from Family Life Education to meet new Virginia Department of Education revised Standards of Learning for health education. Parents or guardians will still be able to opt their child out of any or all remaining objectives in Family Life Education. A summary of changes in question and answer format is provided on the website.

As Fairfax County Schools indicated, a detailed grade-by-grade breakdown of FLE curriculum is available on their web site (along with a letter to all parents reiterating the opt-out policy [PDF]). Kindergarten lessons make no mention of same-sex marriage [PDF], and homosexuality is briefly defined [PDF] in ninth grade lessons. Gender identity is mentioned once in the 10th grade rubric [PDF]:

Instruction will include how sexuality develops throughout a lifetime and how sexuality encompasses attitudes, values, and behaviors. Heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender will be defined. Social and legal issues will be discussed.

The above-linked general district-wide FLE description referenced high school (not middle or grade school) student lessons in which gender identity and sexuality were addressed:

During ninth and tenth grades, students continue building on their base of knowledge regarding human reproduction, sexually transmitted infection prevention, and the skills needed to make health decisions. In grades nine and ten, students learn how maturation affects adolescent development and learn to recognize the development of sexuality as a lifelong aspect of personality. Students are provided definitions for heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual, and transgender and that all persons deserve to be treated with respect regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It was not clear whether the Fairfax County schools' FLE curriculum cited above differed from previous years' lessons with respect to sexuality or gender. However, the bulk of claims originally made by Lafferty to CBN were subsequently removed from their article (and the evangelical network admitted that Lafferty's assertions were largely unsubstantiated).

On 26 June 2015, both Washington, D.C., television station WTOP and the Washington Post covered a 25 June 2015 school board meeting during which changes to the curriculum were approved in a 10-2 vote.

Last updated:   22 July 2015

Originally published:   22 July 2015

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.