Last month, a Michigan elementary school sparked outrage among parents and community members when it announced plans to host a voluntary lesson on gender pronouns. The school ultimately decided to cancel the lesson after staff members received threats and hate online. Here’s what you need to know!

April 11: School Announces Optional Pronoun Lesson

On April 11, Schavey Road Elementary – a school in Dewitt, Michigan, that offers programming for Young 5’s, Kindergarten, and 1st grade students – released a letter informing parents of an upcoming lesson that will be featured in the classroom.

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“The lesson goals are to help students share and explore pronouns through discussion and literature to embrace differences and promote acceptance,” the school wrote in the letter, which was signed by Liz Crouch (principal) and Dr. Shanna Spickard (superintendent).

What Did The Curriculum Feature?

The letter also detailed what was on the agenda for the lesson. First, students would participate in the reading of They She He Me: Free to Be! book by Maya Gonzalez and Matthew Sg. The book is designed to help kids explore beyond the binary of ‘he’ and ‘she.’

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The students would also discuss what they learned from the book, practice using the ‘they’ and ‘them’ pronouns in real-life scenarios, learn what to do when they accidentally use the wrong pronoun, and learn why you should respect someone else’s pronouns.

Parents Were Allowed To Excuse Their Children

The school planned to host the lesson sometime in late April or early May. It would be taught by the child’s regular classroom teacher and a social worker, but parents were given the option of excusing their child from the lesson if they wanted.

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In fact, parents were given a week (until April 18) to either complete, sign, and submit the exemption form to the school or contact the school principal if they wanted to learn more about the lesson or review the lesson content before making a decision.

April 15: ‘Libs Of TikTok’ Blasts School Online

It took some time for the story to find its way on the internet, but it went viral the moment it did. On April 15, one account on X (@libsoftiktok) shared a screenshot of the letter and a photo of the They She He Me: Free to Be! book cover – the post received 1.8 million views.

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“Why are elementary schools dedicating school resources and time to giving students lessons on they/them pronouns?” Libs of TikTok wrote in the caption. They later shared a video of parents blasting the Dewitt Public Schools’ recent decision.

April 16: State Rep. Steve Carra Joins Criticism

One day later, on April 16, state Rep. Steve Carra (MI-59) took to his social media to share a photo of the letter and a backhanded comment about how the lesson would go if he were asked to teach it.

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“Hire me to teach the kids. ‘Little Jack, you’re a boy even if you pretend to be a girl. Other people shouldn’t be forced to pretend along with you. Your pronouns are he/him.’ Great, now back to reading, writing, and arithmetic,” he wrote online.

April 17: Spickard Reiterates That It’s Optional

With the decision now viral and just about every news station and blog writing about it, DeWitt Public Schools superintendent Shanna Spickard attempted to put an end to the slander with a statement of her own – which was published on Facebook on April 17.

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She reiterated that the lesson was optional and parents didn’t need to include their children if they didn’t agree with the curriculum. She added that it was only being offered ‘in response to concerns brought to our attention’ and ‘not as part of our general curriculum.’

Raise Awareness Regarding Gender Identity

In her statement, Spickard also reiterated that the purpose of the lesson wasn’t to ‘challenge, persuade, or alter family beliefs,’ but rather to ‘promote greater understanding, compassion, and kindness regarding gender identity and the use of pronouns.’

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“Instead, it aims to promote a safe and respectful learning environment where all our students feel valued,” she wrote. “At DeWitt Public Schools, we remain focused on providing a world-class education for our students that prepares them for success in a safe, welcoming environment.”

April 19: Spickard Cancels Pronoun Lesson

The saga continued two days later when Spickard posted another statement regarding the lesson – this time canceling it in light of hateful comments and threats that were received by members and non-members of the community.

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While the school defended its intent with the lesson, it admitted that it became ‘a major disruption and distraction to that vision in which our staff, administrators, and students feel safe.’ After speaking with the School Board, they decided to cancel the lesson.

Staff Members Receive Threats and Hate

Spickard didn’t go into detail about what the hateful and threatening messages were, but she did clarify that the majority of messages were from people outside the community. It included phone calls, emails, and social media messages.

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Some staff members have had their personal information, including information regarding their families and children, placed online to harass and intimidate them, a cyberbullying practice called ‘doxing,’” she said in her statement.

Teachers and Staff Felt Unsafe At Work

The messages were enough to make teachers and other staff members scared to come to school on a daily basis – especially since some of the messages contained real, alarming threats that would have anyone feeling shaken.

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“Several staff members have expressed feeling anxious, stressed, and even afraid to go to school. This is unacceptable,” Spickard wrote. She confirmed that the school has increased police and administrative presence as a precautionary measure.

DeWitt Public Schools Had Legitimate Safety Concerns

Spickard went on to say that she understands her decision will ‘please some and disappoint others’ in the school and community at large, but she wants parents to know it wasn’t an easy decision to make.

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“We did so simply out of legitimate safety concerns expressed by the amazing group of educators and administrators who work hard every day to provide a culture of excellence,” the statement read.

Parents Are Torn Between A Mix Of Emotions

Local news channels caught wind of the story rather quickly, and they didn’t waste any time interviewing parents – some of whom were excited to see the lesson canceled, and others who were disappointed the school gave in to the pressure.

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One parent argued that children ‘don’t know who they are yet’ and are ‘still growing,’ so they ‘don’t know anything other than love.’ Another parent said, “Even if people don’t understand it, it’s all about inclusion and making every kid feel safe and welcome in any district.”