MAINE, USA — A virtual lesson made available to teachers in Maine that was the center of a Republican campaign ad has been pulled from the Maine Department of Education's website.
The online video discussed various LGBTQ identities and was intended for kindergarten students. It was part of the MDOE's MOOSE (Maine Online Opportunities for Sustained Education) program. According to the MDOE, that program was developed during the early months of the pandemic to provide online resources and lessons for teachers.
"MOOSE is not a curriculum. It is a collection of independent, educational modules and materials that are aligned to the Maine Learning Results. Curriculum decisions are made by local school boards, educators, and parents at the community level, consistent with Maine's longstanding tradition of local control. The materials and resources on the MOOSE platform are created by teachers," MDOE director of communications Marcus Mrowka wrote in a statement.
A spokesperson for Gov. Janet Mills wrote to NEWS CENTER Maine, stating, "The governor was not aware of the lesson in MOOSE, but she understands the concerns expressed about the age-appropriateness and agrees with the Department of Education's decision to remove the lesson."
Mill's spokesperson continued, "She will continue to empower parents and elected school boards to make decisions about their kids' educations, and she will continue to respect LGBTQ+ people as valued members of the Maine community."
The new ad, which targets Mills, attacks what the ad calls "radical school lessons" intended for kindergarteners.
Rep. Paul Stearns, R-Guilford, said he first heard of the lesson's content over the weekend and believed it was too "heavy" for kindergarten students.
"I reported to [the] commissioner of education and just said, 'Have you seen this, and has it been vetted,'" Stearns said.
Mrowka wrote concerns were raised to the department this week about the lesson.
"A review of the video led the department to conclude that the lesson is not something we would recommend, including as part of kindergarten instruction, and, as such, has been removed from the site. The module was developed during the first year of the pandemic by a kindergarten teacher in partnership with a group of other kindergarten teachers and should have received further review by a DOE specialist overseeing the kindergarten team," Mrowka wrote.
Stearns said he believes the MDOE made the correct decision to pull the lesson from its website.
"I think they were prudent to do so. They did review the material, and they have a lot of experts, educational experts. And I think they thought some of the same things I did, that perhaps it was a bit too detailed in that lesson for kindergarten age," Stearns said. Stearns added he does not disagree with teaching about identity but believed this particular lesson was not age-appropriate.
Others, however, are pushing back against the decision to pull the lesson and the ad itself.
"My face and my work have become a political football to pass around without my consent and seemingly without concern for the effects on my personal life. The most disappointing part of all of this is that the Maine Department of Education (MDOE) and Mills administration caved to pressure instead of standing up for some of the most vulnerable people, families, and students in Maine," Kailina Mills, the teacher behind the lesson discussing LGBTQ identities, wrote, in part, via a Facebook post.
Gia Drew, program director with Equality Maine, said it's important to have conversations about identity.
"I know from my own self growing up as an LGBTQ youth. Nobody talked about what it meant to be LGBTQ, and I felt so alone. And we don't want kids to feel alone," Drew said.
Drew hopes the MDOE is able to identify a program that would allow discussion like this to happen in the classroom.
"I think there's material that's appropriate developmentally for different age groups. I think there's something you'd say to a kindergartner that you wouldn't say to a middle schooler or high schooler," Drew said. "And I think that's appropriate too, to have developmentally appropriate curriculum and lesson plans that address and support LGBTQ youth, whether they're in kindergarten or whether they're in high school or somewhere in between. I think there's a way to do this correctly and done well."
NEWS CENTER Maine also received written statements from the state's Republican and Democratic parties about the ad, the lesson, and the decision to remove it.
"The Maine GOP knows they can't run on Paul LePage's failed record, so they are resorting to following a national playbook that seeks to distract, distort, and divide. Maine people know better than to believe the Maine GOP's lies and recognize that Gov. Mills is a champion for Maine's tradition of local control, for our kids, for our teachers, for our schools, and for our LGBTQ+ community. Under her leadership, Maine has finally fully funded the state's share of public education, raised teacher salaries to a living wage, and expanded learning opportunities from pre-K to college," Drew Gattine, chair of the Maine Democratic Party, wrote.
"Following political pressure, [Gov.] Janet Mills was forced to admit that she funded and spread inappropriate material designed for kindergarteners. At the same time, Maine students' test scores are low, and Mills' handpicked UMaine chancellor is facing scandal after scandal. Mills also shut down our schools during the pandemic, which has led to many negative outcomes for our kids. If you're concerned about Maine kids' education, it's clear that Janet Mills is the wrong person to be governor. From kindergarten to college, Mills badly has failed Maine kids." Jason Savage, Maine GOP executive director wrote.