Parents weigh options ahead of 2020 school year
By Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting by Lisa Misner
Beginning next year, students at public schools in Illinois will study the role of LGBT people in U.S. and state history, after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a controversial measure into law Aug. 9. The new policy, which goes into effect July 1, 2020, affects students of all ages, although the state’s School Code stipulates that the curriculum be taught before the end of 8th grade.
House Bill 246 passed through the Illinois Senate last spring and was quietly approved May 23 by the House amid a flurry of other legislation, including legalization of recreational marijuana and the repeal of several restrictions on abortion. Pritzker’s signature on the curriculum bill dismayed many Christians and conservatives, with talk online quickly turning to education alternatives.
“Reason 157 to home or private school,” one poster wrote on IBSA’s Facebook page. Others expressed resolve to keep their kids in the public school system to shine the light of the gospel there.
“We are very aware that times are changing and more liberal views are entering the classroom,” said Caitlin Konieczka, a Springfield mother of three girls.
“We feel that the changes that are happening in the classroom and throughout the world right now are opportunities to share Christ and his message.”
Illinois is one of a handful of states to consider curriculum legislation this year, but California lawmakers approved the FAIR Education Act in 2011. According to a Reuters article from May of this year, that state is still struggling to implement the law, and some parents are still protesting it. The article recounts recent fights over textbooks at school board meetings, where one mother expressed concern that her children would read books about transgender people before she’s ready to discuss gender and sexuality with them. “I should be the first one to educate about those things,” she said.
Candi Campbell and her husband, Charles, sent three daughters through the public school system in Illinois, recognizing their decision at the time as a natural way to be “a witness in the world.” The recent legislation would make the decision more difficult, Campbell said.
“As a parent, I believe it is my job to feed, lead, and protect my children. The law signed in Illinois represents a damaging social agenda to our little ones. And, until they can stand on a personal faith in Christ for truth, it is up to me to stand for them.”
A homeschooling mom in Springfield agreed, while acknowledging that homeschooling isn’t for every family. “No matter how we as Christians choose to educate our children, we must help them develop a biblical worldview,” she said. “Our children need our help in discerning truth and goodness through the lens of Scripture.”
Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), one of the bill’s chief sponsors, has said the new curriculum will help LGBT students feel more accepted and supported in school. Her comments also may sound alarm bells for Christian parents who fear the normalization of sexual values they believe run counter to God’s Word.
“One of the best ways to overcome intolerance is through education and exposure to different people and viewpoints,” Steans said in a news release posted on her website. “An inclusive curriculum will not only teach an accurate version of history but also promote acceptance of the LGBTQ community.”
Laurie Higgins said the curriculum changes ought to spur Christians to action—and their churches with them. Churches should have been creating affordable Christian schools “yesterday,” said Higgins, a cultural affairs writer for the conservative Illinois Family Institute. While that will indeed take time, she acknowledged, “it doesn’t take time to make funds available.” Higgins urged churches to partner together to create scholarships to Christian schools.
“Parents need to understand if we lose our kids on this [issue], they will think the Bible is wrong on other things,” Higgins said. “We have to start creating affordable alternatives.”
She also encouraged parents to contact school administrators and teachers to ask that their children not be taught about homosexuality or cross-sex identification. Ask them to acknowledge receipt of the e-mail, Higgins added.
While the Konieczka family has made a different decision about school, they’re also planning for future action, Caitlin said. “We are working now to lay a solid foundation before the girls enter school on basic biblical principles and God’s design for creation and life.” Once school starts, she said, they’ll communicate and reinforce biblical truths and establish an environment that welcomes questions.
She acknowledged there could be topics they don’t want presented to their daughters. The couple, both educators, plans to preview textbooks and content and work with teachers and administrators to accommodate their preferences.
“We view this as an opportunity to be a light in the school, and an opening to conversations about our beliefs.”
– Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting by Lisa Misner