Potomac’s Bells Mill Elementary School switched a Parent-Teacher Association meeting from in-person to virtual this week after the school received threats related to a teacher reading an LGBTQ-inclusive book in class, according to a letter from the principal.
Principal Stacy Smith sent families an email on Tuesday morning informing them of the threats, changing the venue for the meeting and announcing a Montgomery County Public Schools investigation into the threats. She also reaffirmed the school’s commitment to using inclusive curriculum.
The anti-LGBTQ Twitter account @LibsofTikTok subjected Bells Mill to the ire of its 1.8 million followers on Monday, retweeting photographs of a Bells Mill teacher reading Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope and adding its own transphobic commentary.
The tweet has amassed over 650,000 views on Twitter, including almost 700 comments and over 2,000 retweets. Many commenters expressed disgust and outrage at the idea of students hearing a story about a transgender character, and some threatened violence toward MCPS.
Born Ready, by Jodie Patterson, is one of six LGBTQ-inclusive books recently added to the school district’s supplemental curriculum for pre-K through fifth grade in an effort to more accurately reflect the county’s diversity, according to MCPS spokesperson Jessica Baxter. It explores concepts of identity and acceptance by following the early childhood experiences of Patterson’s transgender son.
In response to the viral post, Bells Mill temporarily locked its Twitter account and switched Tuesday night’s parent-teacher meeting from in-person to virtual due to safety concerns, Smith wrote.
MoCo Pride Youth co-director Gretchen Gilmore, a junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, said she was disturbed when she saw the Twitter post and comments.
“When I see harassment like this, it makes me scared that younger students’ opportunities to learn how to express themselves will be limited,” she told MoCo360.
Dozens of Twitter commenters denounced the concept of gender identity and implied that transgender children do not exist.
While research on transgender youth is limited, studies suggest that people who identify as transgender from a young age tend to hold to the same gender identity over time.
A recent study found that 94% of transgender youth still identified as transgender five years after socially transitioning. Most transgender adults who do de-transition feel forced to do so because of external pressures like family and social stigma, according to research.
The Bells Mill school administration is working with investigators from the MCPS Office of Safety and Security to identify the people responsible for any potential threats to the school’s safety, according to Smith.
“We must take all negative comments/possible threats and statements of this nature extremely seriously,” she wrote.
Smith’s email continued:
“I encourage parents to talk with their children about respecting all and showing tolerance and understanding for our differences. Please help them to understand the weight that intolerable symbols, words, and actions carry with them.”
She also reiterated that supplemental materials like Born Ready are optional resources available for teachers to use, and that all teachers have a choice regarding which books they choose to read.
Gilmore emphasized the importance of elementary students being allowed access to stories like Born Ready in order to learn about themselves and their peers.
“Ignorance starts in your education,” she said. “Teaching students to understand themselves and their emotions as well as accepting others is how we combat ignorance.”
She added, “The elementary schoolers in that classroom who read that story are now one step closer to building a positive emotional vocabulary.”