Students in Fairfax County will soon learn sex education in a new way.
The school board voted 10 to 1 Thursday night to change the dress code to gender-neutral language and adopt a more inclusive sex education curriculum.
Currently, Fairfax County Public Schools students in eighth, ninth and 10th grades are taught that "the development of individual identity occurs over a lifetime and includes the component of sexual orientation and gender identity." The current curriculum says "biological sex" is one of four parts of individual identity.
The change to the Family Life Education Curriculum would replace "biological sex" with "sex assigned at birth." The new curriculum will go into effect for the 2018-2019 school year.
English teacher Mary Mathewson said she supports the change in the curriculum because it makes the distinction clearer between the sex one is assigned and their gender identity. The updated lesson would create space for transgender students, she said.
"I saw one too many kids struggle with not being accepted for who they are," Matthewson said.
Groups ranging from the Catholic Diocese of Arlington to the Fairfax County Republican Committee opposed the change in terminology.
"A lot of the people who are opposed to the change are making the point that what we want the kids to learn is biology, not ideology," Father Thomas P. Ferguson of the Arlington diocese said.
Religious groups also objected to the proposed removal of the word "clergy" from a list of adults students are recommended to go to with questions about sexual orientation or identity.
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"To narrow rather than expand for young people who they might turn to as trusted adults is unfortunate," Ferguson said.
Mathewson took a different view. She said she liked the proposed new language of "parent or trusted adult."
"I think that 'parent or trusted adult' gives kids a broad range of choices for who to go to when they're questioning things," she said.
School district records show that between May 10 and June 8, the district received 192 emails in support of replacing "biological sex" with "sex assigned at birth." A far greater number of emails, 941, were received relaying opposition to the change.