"Letter to the Editor" printed on newsprint

March 28, 2023

TO: Editor

Broadwater County News

219 Broadway Street

Townsend, Montana 59644

From:  Townsend K-12 School District No. 1 Board of Trustees

Re: Your Article dated March 24, 2023 "Is There Religious Freedom In Townsend Schools?"

Dear Editor:

On March 24, 2023 The Broadwater County News (BCN) published the above-referenced article to which the Townsend K-12 School District No. 1 (District) Board of Trustees (School Board) believes a reply is necessary because the article: (1) conflates multiple clearly-distinguishable topics; (2) lacks accuracy and necessary context; (3) advances its own narrative through suggestive and inflammatory text formatting, and (4) arrives at conclusions which read more like an opinion editorial than an informative news article.

The article began with . . . "Last week 8th grade Townsend School children were provided a presentation of a music video that provides a look at individualism with a focus on promoting the acceptance of transgenderism and other inclusionary concepts.  A more current term is non-bianary, which according to science, provides further confusion in sexual identification."  The words transgenderism, inclusionary, and non-bianary (sic), were also presented in bold and italics for no valid purpose other than to inflame the reader or to advance BCN's narrative.  The article also attempts to weave discussions about 'DEI,' pending state legislation, school board strategic planning, and parental rights in governmental administration of education all into one article about "religious freedom" - each of which is done a disservice in the article as they are deserving of their own discussion between all affected stakeholders.

In reality, a student requested to perform a song from the soundtrack of a contemporary movie as a solo in class.  Based on the context of the song's presentation in the movie (a "bearded lady" of P.T. Barnum's circus), the teacher approved the song about people with genetic disorders or conditions that make them "different."  The teacher prefaced the video and the performance explaining that the song is about genetic disorders.  A student was offended, apparently walked out, and the parents engaged the principal.  The ensuing discussion centered around the perception that schools are trying to get kids to question their sexual identity, which is not what this song is about.  That said, the School Board understands and acknowledges that songs, media, and commercial imagery are often diverted or co-opted beyond their original purpose by individuals or groups and the content's use (or user) may not align with the beliefs of our students and their families.  However, BCN ignored these plausible conclusions in favor of the co-opted narrative of the source material as the only truth of the matter.

The teacher believed the introductory discussion was adequate and there was no discussion of sexual identity at any point.  The principal later addressed the video with the teacher and stressed the importance of excluding anything considered controversial unless approved by the administration, the School Board, and providing an opt-out activity for any student.  While the School Board regrets the negative feelings of the student and the family towards the presentation and performance, the teacher had no agenda, no ill-intention, and this presentation is not a part of any class curriculum.  Further, the School Board supports its principal in the handling of this delicate matter.

In no way does Townsend Schools intentionally teach controversial material or infringe on students' and parents' rights.  We are here to educate children, avoid controversial issues (to the greatest extent possible), and leave discussions of morals and family values where it belongs - within students' families.

Our teachers carefully execute their classes by adding enrichment to lessons, and there is always a level of autonomy to consider when lessons and discussions occur.  However, the School Board and our administrators will continue to train staff on making these judgment calls to handle discussions that respect student and parent rights and beliefs and other in-the-moment education lessons that occur in the classroom.  The School Superintendent is also willing to meet with any concerned parents and will always make the curriculum readily available for parental review.

We encourage BCN to engage with us in the accurate reporting of news and help the community expand its knowledge of issues that affect us and our community.


The Townsend K-12 School District No. 1 Board of Trustees