Questions at District 211 candidates forum focus on use of controversial sex ed curriculum
A Saturday forum for Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 candidates, which had been designed to ensure a variety of topics, ended up being dominated by audience questions about the district's controversial adoption of the state's comprehensive sex education curriculum.
The nonpartisan forum was hosted by the Schaumburg Township Republican Organization, which received more than 160 audience registrants for the event at Schaumburg Township hall.
Though all 11 active candidates for four seats on the board of education had been invited, the six who attended were incumbents Mark Cramer, Kimberly Cavill and Steven Rosenblum along with newcomers Barbara Velez, Susan Saam and Joan Sherrill.
The remaining candidates cited scheduling conflicts for their absence, organizers said.
The forum's format, in which audience members were encouraged to ask questions of only one or two candidates at a time, caused the few other topics that were raised to quickly fall by the wayside.
But questions about the candidates' stances on the use of the state's sex ed curriculum -- which added the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity this year -- were asked multiple times in different ways.
Velez described herself as skeptical that such topics can be taught scientifically, without bias.
"I have an issue with that and I would like to see the instructional materials," she said.
Cramer, who voted against the adoption of the curriculum in November, nevertheless took up the point of forum moderator Patrick Riley about the negativity of one-issue candidates.
"We handle an issue and then we move on," he said. "We are polarized, but we work together to get things done."
Saam stated that the current sex ed curriculum takes time away from other instruction students should be receiving. During the six years of her family's interaction with District 211, both the district and the world have changed dramatically, she said. A book about these years could be titled, "While We Were Sleeping," she added.
"A hypersexualized curriculum will create hypersexualized students," Saam said.
Describing herself as a representative of the "exhausted middle," Sherrill said she'd be just as concerned about hypersexualized students if she saw any evidence of that happening. Characterizing much of the criticism she'd heard of the sex ed curriculum as hyperbole, she sought any and every opportunity to discuss other issues concerning the district's preparedness for the future.
"My biggest concern is that we have a wedge issue here. So what happens to all the other issues?" Sherrill asked. "If this is where you want to focus, realize what isn't being focused on."
Cavill, who has taught comprehensive sex ed herself, said she voted for the curriculum and would do so again. She described such knowledge as protection against sexual violence and unwanted pregnancies, adding that there was enough time to teach it as well as math and other subjects.
Still, some of the later audience questions directed specifically at her included, "Should our students be subjected to indoctrination or academic education?"
"This is phrased as a gotcha question," she responded before clarifying her stance again.
Rosenblum, who also voted in favor of the curriculum two months ago, received some audience criticism of his own after characterizing what freshmen and sophomores would learn in sex ed classes this year as being the same as last year.
But he defended that vote as well as an earlier one regarding transgender students' access to locker rooms when that issue was raised too. He added that protection of students' safety, wellness and respect is among the responsibilities of the board of education.
"I voted for it, and it has not been a problem," Rosenblum said.
The forum was videorecorded and information about its availability to view is expected to be posted soon on the Schaumburg Township Republican Organization's website at stgop.org.
The candidates who faced conflicts are incumbent Peter Dombrowski and newcomers Meenal Dewan, Michelle Barron, Aiden Branss and Jane Russell.
Jennifer Wesche has formally withdrawn from the race, while Angela Geitner has told the Daily Herald she is no longer running.