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Oswego

Kendall County area lawmakers split on LGBT instruction bill

Legislation that would require teaching in Illinois public schools about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in the history of the country and state is now pending before the House of Representatives in Springfield.

The Senate approved the measure May 2 and it is now before the House.

Senators representing the Kendall County area split along party lines on their vote, with Democratic Sens. Linda Holmes and Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant voting in favor of the legislation. Republican Senators Jim Oberweis and Sue Rezin voted against.

"The LGBTQ curriculum initiative is designed to recognize accomplishments of individuals who at one time were overlooked," Bertino-Tarrant said, pointing out that the lessons would be implemented in the same manner as Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage, or Women's History.

"The curriculum provides an opportunity for students, especially those within the LGBTQ community to have role models and see the successes of many people whom at one time were overlooked," Bertino-Tarrant said.

"We do this with so many other groups in history," Holmes said. "Everybody has made a contribution to this country...The world is better when we accept diversity."

Holmes stated that a potential curriculum has not yet been written, but that making sure the lessons are "age-appropriate" is key.

Sen. Sue Rezin declined to comment on the matter, and calls to Sen. Jim Oberweis for comment were not returned.

When asked about the pending legislation, SD308 Director of Communications and Public Relations Theresa Komitas issued a statement, reading, "Oswego Community Unit School District 308 continues to monitor legislative action related to HB 5596 (The House of Representatives version). Should this bill pass, just as with any other amendment to state mandates, we would begin policy and curriculum revisions required to remain compliant with the school code."

First introduced to the Senate in February by Sen. Heather Steans, a Democrat from Chicago, the amendment to the School Code is commonly known as the "Inclusive Curriculum Bill," and would require public school students from kindergarten through high school, to learn about the contributions of LGBT individuals in their history classes.

The summary description of the legislation says that it, "Provides that the teaching of history of the United States in public schools shall include a study of the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the history of this country and this state. Requires every public elementary school and high school to include in its curriculum a unit of instruction studying the significant role of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in society."

In regards to the state's textbook block grant program, the amendment would require textbooks that are authorized for purchase to include the roles and contributions of groups and peoples protected under the Illinois Human Rights Act, and must also be non-discriminatory to all characteristics covered by the Act. It also allows the Illinois State Board of Education to post recommended resources and educational materials that may be used by a school board to help develop a district's curriculum. During the legislative process, a provision that would have a regional superintendent of schools monitor a district's compliance with the curriculum requirements during their annual compliance visit.

Advocacy group Equality Illinois was one of several groups that pushed for the legislation. “As a former first grade teacher, I know how an inclusive education system can create change within a community,” CEO Brian C. Johnson said, in a press release posted to the group's website earlier this year. "By including information in public school curriculum about the contributions of LGBTQ people and the historical events they were involved in, we will get closer as a state to telling the whole story of our shared history.”

Equality Illinois has pointed out several historical individuals who could be included under the legislation including: Jane Addams, founder of Hull House and the "mother" of social work; Sally Ride, the first American woman in space; California politician Harvey Milk; Alan Turing, considered to be the "father" of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. Historical events like the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, considered to be the fundamental event that led to the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States, would also be included.

If passed and signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner, it would take effect July 1, 2019.

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