Survey Asking About Students’ Sexuality, Gender, Race Roils Parents in Milton

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Are you transgender, genderqueer, or genderfluid?

High school and middle school students in Milton got that question and many others earlier this school year – and some parents aren’t happy about it.

As a part of the school district’s “Equity Audit” and commitment to what school officials call anti-racism, students at Pierce Middle School (which serves grades 6 through 8) and Milton High School received a 91-question survey from an educational consulting company called Cambridge Education with an emphasis on race and gender.

NewBostonPost obtained a copy of the survey.

The first two questions, although optional, ask what the student’s gender is and if the student identifies as “gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, aromantic / asexual, or questioning?” One gender question includes the following options:  “Male, Female, Transgender Male, Transgender Female, Genderqueer or Genderfluid, Questioning, My identity is not listed, Prefer not to answer.”

The next question, no longer optional, asks about the student’s race or ethnicity. One of the options is “Hispanic or LatinX.”

Some questions deal with how teachers and staff treat students, but questions 26 to 28 probe substance in the classroom, including whether “There are opportunities to talk about race in class,” “We talk about gender in my classes,” and “There are opportunities to discuss sexual orientation in my classes.” The options are “strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree.”

Shortly thereafter, questions 31 through 33 ask if the student sees people from many “races, cultures and backgrounds” represented in classwork and in homework, if there are positive images of them, and if the student learns about people “of races, cultures, and backgrounds that are like mine.”

The survey has divided parents.

Opponents of the survey question the school district’s effectiveness during the coronavirus emergency, and say the survey suggests misguided priorities.

“I’m concerned that this is the focus of our schools while our children have over a year of learning loss,” said Rachel Riccardella, who has children in elementary school in Milton, by email. “That’s what every Milton Public School student is facing, and it’s going to take years to catch them up to their peers in towns and states that have had more in-person learning. This is an educational crisis. The fact that the children are now back full time doesn’t negate it, and we need to stay vigilant.”

Another Milton resident, Jennifer Wrightington, said a social agenda seems to have taken precedence over learning.

“Our children, at the time of the survey had not been in school in person in over a year but even within that year’s time, we’ve had more information sent our way about gender and race, behavior equity (what the ….?) rather than an actual education,” Wrightington told NewBostonPost by email.

“The survey was indicative of that as my children were given 90 question survey and I was given a 50 question survey all about ‘feelings,’ race, was my culture supported here and at school, was my ethnic group colonized as a conquered group (my survey), and also, what our genders were, though heterosexual WAS not an option,” she added. “Of course it wasn’t …”

Kerry White, chairman of the Milton Republican Town Committee, says longstanding frustration with the town’s public schools is boiling over.

“The opacity of activities within the school administration is something that many MPS parents and Milton taxpayers have been looking to have redressed for quite some time, and it is clear from the voices of ‘Citizens Speak’ that frustration with this school district persists,” White said. “That frustration is not limited to questions regarding sexual orientation targeted toward students as young as eleven, but includes an obvious agenda to have Critical Race Theory permeate the entire district.”

Yet some in Milton have defended the survey. Several spoke during the Milton School Committee meeting on March 31, while no one spoke against the survey during that meeting.

One was Helene Norton-Russell, who described herself as a proud mom of a transgender child who attends Milton High School. She said the survey and the school’s agenda could help build a better environment for homosexual and transgender youth in the school.

“This is our colleagues, our community members, our family members — even for folks who don’t think they know someone who is trans or LGBTQ, you do — and more than likely they don’t feel comfortable enough to be their authentic self,” Norton-Russell said during the school committee meeting. “And the other thing I just wanted to say is we have so much to learn from LGBTQ youth. They are living their lives authentically and they are heroes among us.”

Another woman, Shelley Jean Sturdivant, has twins in the school district, including a biologically female child who identifies as male and attends Pierce Middle School. She said that her child was the first to socially transition at a Milton elementary school.

“Our LGBTQ students need to be seen and heard,” Sturdivant said. “They deserve to have a voice and I am here to be that voice for those who cannot or are too afraid to be heard. If you are asking yourself ‘I shouldn’t have to have this kind of discussion with my child,’ then shame on you. You need to have these uncomfortable conversations.”

School committee vice chairman Elaine Craghead expressed her support for the survey during the meeting, as well as the town’s overall educational agenda.

“Students were asked two questions that have become controversial. One was about their gender identity and another was about their sexual identity,” Craghead said. “Students were informed that all questions were voluntary and that they could skip anything and that these two questions were noted as optional. The audit is being performed in order to inform Milton Public Schools about where gaps and needs in support and awareness exist for all of our students.”

“To the parents and guardians who are upset about these questions, I would respectfully say that we all need to educate ourselves and raise awareness of LGBTQ issues,” Craghead later added. “There are a number of students in middle school and even before middle school that are coming out as queer-identified whether trans, bi, gay, or something else. They are, of course, talking to their peers about these things, so if you think your kid hasn’t heard these terms, you’re probably wrong.”

Some of the questions in the survey probe for evidence of racism in the public schools.

Questions 38 and 39 ask if the student feels unable to share his views because of his race and gender, respectively, while questions 43 and 44 ask students if the punishment is the same for breaking a school rule “no matter who you are” and if the student thinks he would receive the same punishment “as others for breaking a rule.”

The second half of the survey spends some attention on bullying. Question 49, for example, asks if students “harass, bully, or intimidate each other because of their …”. The options the students receive are “Race or ethnicity,” “National origin or immigrant status,” “gender or Gender Identity,” “Disability,” “Sexual Orientation,” “Poverty, income level, or social class,” “Appearance,” “Religion,” “Other,” and “None of the above.” The survey encourages the student to check every applicable box.

The survey follows that up by seeing how frequently certain things occur, giving the students “Always”, “Often”, “Sometimes”, and “Never” as options.

These include: “Hurtful comments about race from others students,” “Disrespectful comments about gender from other students,” “Negative comments about sexual orientation from other students,” “Hurtful comments about immigrants from other students,” “Negative comments about religious identity from other students,” “Hurtful comments about race from school staff,” “Disrespectful comments about gender from school staff,” “Negative comments about sexual orientation from school staff,” “Hurtful comments about immigrants from school staff,” and “Negative comments about religious identity from school staff.”

Additionally, questions 80 through 84 on the survey put forth several statements for students to evaluate:  “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important at my school,” “Students at this school respect each other’s differences,” “Staff at this school respect differences in students and in other adults,” “It is wrong to discriminate against someone because of their race,” and “I accept those who are different from me.” The potential answers for these questions were “Strongly Agree,” “Agree,” “Disagree,” and “Strongly Disagree.”

Milton High principal Karen Cahill could not be reached for comment this past week, nor could a spokesman for Cambridge Education.

James Jette, the superintendent of Milton Public Schools, sent NewBostonPost a statement defending the survey:


The survey was one small part of an entire equity audit of the district.  As the top of the survey/cover letter it stated:

“The Quality Review is a project commissioned by Milton Public Schools leadership and facilitated by Cambridge Education.  The purpose of the study is to examine the instructional, social-emotional, and cultural assets across the district to determine what things are working well and where there are opportunities to grow as the district develops the vision for the next strategic plan. Milton Public Schools is committed to creating a school district where the achievement of excellent, equitable outcomes is a reality for all stakeholders. 

Thank you for taking the time to complete this survey. Your answers to the questions in this survey are used to improve the experiences of all students in the district.

      • There are no “right” or “wrong” answers.   
      • Choose the one response that best fits your thoughts and experiences. For some of these statements, it is best to think about your experiences before the pandemic when all students came to school each day.
      • If you don’t understand or would prefer not to answer a question, you can skip to the next question.    
      • Your individual responses will be kept private. 

In addition to the aforementioned, the word Optional appears before the questions relating to gender and sexual orientation. Students do not have to take the survey nor do they have to answer particular questions. Furthermore, one of the options students could select following the two questions of concern says, “Prefer not to answer“.

It is important that these questions be included to identify if students are being marginalized or discriminated against by peers or staff because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. There is a total of 91 questions and a few people focused on the first two and disregarded the rest.

Again, the survey is not mandatory; anyone can opt out of individual questions or opt out of the survey altogether.


Milton school officials identify the survey as part of their commitment to anti-racism, including implementing what they describe as an anti-racist curriculum.

Jette’s predecessor as superintendent, Mary Gormley, made a statement following a July 8, 2020 school committee meeting affirming that the school would move in this direction, citing the deaths of unarmed black Americans at the hands of police officers, including George Floyd. 

“Conversations about racism, bias, oppression, violence, and injustice are difficult, to say the least,” Gormley wrote. “But they are critical conversations to have if we are truly committed to moving forward and building a stronger, more inclusive, equitable nation. These difficult conversations are particularly vital in schools. From pre-school through high school, our educators must be equipped with the knowledge, skills, support, and academic freedom to facilitate classroom lessons and discussions about the complex issues of race and racism. Every student in the Milton Public Schools should engage in thoughtful conversations, meaningful study, and critical thinking about race and racism – both historically and in today’s context.”

This statement and Gormley’s retirement came in the wake of racial controversy in the school district. The school district placed a black middle school teacher on leave in early June 2020 after she said “many cops are racist” during a Zoom call with students, as WBUR reported at the time. The Milton Educators Association, which is the local teachers union, demanded that the school district apologize for the decision. The union also hosted a rally that month with hundreds of people reportedly in attendance to show their support for the teacher 

About a month later, the school committee passed its aforementioned anti-racism resolution. In August, Gormley resigned.

An organization called Citizens For a Diverse Milton called on the school committee to pick a new superintendent with “commitment to racial justice” and skills to address challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, in a statement published by The Milton Scene in August.

This past January, the Milton School Committee unanimously voted to appoint Jette, who is African-American, as superintendent. School Committee members said that they liked the perspective he would bring to the school district.

“After surveying parents, guardians and staff and hosting listening sessions with stakeholders, the Milton School Committee agreed that Mr. Jette was the best choice to lead the Milton Public Schools,” the school committee wrote in a letter to The Milton Times. “His experience and dedication to Milton’s students and staff and to the Milton community has earned him tremendous support and respect. 

“We appreciate Mr. Jette’s steadfast commitment to excellence and equity in all facets of the Milton Public Schools and look forward to our continued partnership with him in the years ahead,” the school committee added.

In addition to the survey sent out by the school district, the public schools have allocated more district funds to promote the anti-racism agenda. In November 2020, the superintendent hired the district’s first “senior director of educational equity,” Somaly Prak-Martins, who is Cambodian. She works with the superintendent to “address inequities and systemic racism in the school system” and is responsible for “eliminating achievement and opportunity gaps, develop training programs for staff and help the system recruit, hire and retain staff of color,” as The Patriot Ledger put it.


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