The Princeton Public Schools is continuing its relationship with HiTOPS, the nonprofit group that focuses on youth-centered sex education and support.
School district officials were reconsidering the district’s relationship with HiTOPS in the wake of a Project Veritas online video, but announced earlier this month that the district would continue to work with the organization.
The undercover Project Veritas video focused on alleged questionable strategies used by HiTOPS to reach Princeton Middle School students, bypassing parents, according to a Sept. 14 email to school district families and staff.
The Project Veritas video alleged that HiTOPS circumvented parental permission by incorporating lesson plans into courses that did not allow for parents to “opt-out” their children.
In Project Veritas’ edited, undercover video with HiTOPS Executive Director Lisa Shelby and health educator Hannah Wiers, the duo said parents can “opt-out” their children from a health class, but not from the school district’s Pathways to Racial Literacy classes.
The Pathways to Racial Literacy course description for sixth-grade students encourages “conversations about race, racism and other forms of discrimination that are personal and vulnerable,” according to the Princeton Public Schools website at www.princetonk12.org.
The course touches on several “pathways,” including the Identity Pathway – which is how HiTOPS reached the students. It helps students to develop their own identities, discover others’ identities without judgment and encourages students to embrace not only their own individuality, but those of their peers as well, according to the school district website.
In a Nov. 13 letter to parents and guardians, school district officials gave an update about the Princeton Middle School’s partnership with HiTOPS “and our commitment to creating an inclusive and respectful learning environment for all students.”
“The PPS administration has met with HiTOPS several times about three lessons that will be taught in each of our middle school’s ‘Pathways to Racial Literacy’ courses,” Kimberly Tew, the school district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, wrote in the Nov. 13 letter.
“Former Princeton Middle School counselor Thomas Foley will be leading all sessions and PPS staff will be present during lesson delivery,” Tew wrote.
The lessons, which will be given during the last week of November and the first week of December, are required by state law, Tew wrote. It is not possible to opt-out of the lessons, which are part of the state-mandated LGBQT and Disabilities Law and the Diversity and Inclusion Law.
“Our primary goal as educators is to foster a safe and welcoming environment where every student feels valued, respected and supported,” she wrote.
School district officials recognize that to achieve that goal and to fulfill state mandates, it is essential to create a curriculum that acknowledges and celebrates the diversity of the student body, Tew wrote.
“Partnering with HiTOPS allows us to offer comprehensive lessons on LGBTQIA+ history and allyship, helping us to address an important aspect of diversity and inclusivity in a thoughtful and age-appropriate manner,” Tew wrote.
The school district is committed to full transparency about the content of the lessons, and will share with parents and guardians the detailed lesson plans and materials in advance of the lessons being taught, she wrote.
HiTOPS’ curriculum is designed to foster empathy, understanding and respect for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, Tew wrote.
“We believe their expertise will contribute to a more informed and compassionate student body,” she wrote.
LGBTQIA+ issues can be sensitive and families may have varying viewpoints, Tew wrote. The school district’s approach will be respectful of all perspectives, while still promoting understanding and empathy.
“We firmly believe that this continued partnership with HiTOPS will lead to a more inclusive and respectful educational environment at the Princeton Middle School,” Tew wrote.
Finally, the school district wants to ensure that students graduate with a deep appreciation of diversity, stronger allyship skills and a profound respect for all of their peers, she wrote.