On May 25, Paul and Rebeka Sinclair pulled their minivan over to the side of the road, just north of Lake Tahoe, and logged onto a Zoom with Katherine Dinh, the head of the Marin Country Day School.
“Today was the last day of school for your children, Charlotte and Carter,” Dinh informed the couple. The Sinclairs—she’s 37; he’s 51—had been driving home from a vacation to celebrate their anniversary. Dinh appeared to be reading a script. Two MCDS board members joined her on the call but stayed quiet. “Please do not contact any other school employees, particularly Charlotte and Carter’s teachers, as your reaching out to them will cause them further stress,” Dinh continued. “The two of you are not to be on campus again.”
It was the closing act of a year-long drama between the Sinclairs and MCDS, which charges $40,000 per student per year and had been teaching first and second graders about “deconstructing the gender binary”—the idea that there’s no such thing as girls or boys, just a spectrum of relative girlness and boyness.
The Sinclairs weren’t the only parents who had protested the new gender-identity curriculum—most families in their daughter’s class were upset and had been talking about it among themselves. But the Sinclairs had been unwilling to stay quiet. As a result, administrators had suggested that they were homophobic and accused them of tarnishing MCDS’s reputation. (An MCDS attorney had accused the Sinclairs of “defamation” for accusing MCDS of “predatory ‘grooming’ of children.” The Sinclairs never made that accusation.) Friends had stopped replying to their texts. Teachers said they felt unsafe around them. When word got out about why Charlotte, 8, and Carter, 5, had been kicked out, the Sinclairs had to decide whether they could stay in the Bay Area.
“I had no problem being a pariah in Marin,” Beka said. “We were worried about raising our kids long term in an area that was embracing these destructive ideologies.”
Beka first glimpsed what was going on in the fall of 2020. Charlotte was in the first grade then, and the students were still in remote learning, and she saw the teacher read the kids Ibram X. Kendi’s “Antiracist Baby.” She didn’t like Kendi’s ideas, and she emailed Dinh and Stephanie Deitz, the head of the lower school, to let them know.
A few weeks later, one of Charlotte’s teachers asked the kids to introduce their stuffed animals with their pronouns. “The six-year-olds were like, ‘What’s a pronoun?’” Beka said.
A former MCDS teacher whose daughter attended the school said his little girl was similarly confused when MCDS “started introducing gender, and you can be whoever you want, and it’s fluid. She started taking that on.”
The former teacher, who declined to speak openly, said his daughter was hardly alone. A group of girls in her class started to think of themselves as gay, and then transgender. By the fourth grade, his daughter was “dating” other girls in her class. By sixth grade—last year—she had adopted male pronouns and a boy’s name, and had started wearing a breast binder.
“You could see the old going away,” the former teacher said. “It was intense. And it was just sobering to go to these meetings week after week after week, and just talk about the same thing over and over.”
Then, one day in 2021, when everyone was back on campus, Beka noticed that all the American flags had disappeared. She didn’t say anything to MCDS. It felt important, but it also felt a little weird to bring up.
The school, Paul said, seemed intent on teaching kids to feel bad about who they were—whether it was being white, or American, or a boy or a girl.
By early 2022—Charlotte was now in the second grade—MCDS parents started noticing more red flags, according to parents I spoke to and others connected to the school. One of the children wondered what they were supposed to call their stuffed animals, since they had never asked them whether they were boys or girls. Another couldn’t reconcile his interest in unicorns with his love of sports.
(Several parents I reached out to indicated that they wanted to talk but were scared. One father said he’d call me from a pay phone, if only there were pay phones.)
Parents started to hear about weird classroom exercises designed to force the seven- and eight-year-olds to decide how they identified: They were asked which gender they “felt like.” Or to pick the pronoun that seemed right to them. Or to say which toys seemed more like boy toys or girl toys.
There were three classes in the second grade, with each class comprising about 20 students. Out of that, there was a core group of more than a dozen parents who were the angriest. But no one would speak up. It didn’t matter that most of the parents were affluent. They feared school administrators. They fretted that MCDS would say bad things about their kids or deny admission to their kids’ younger siblings or not write recommendations for their kids if they tried to transfer to another school. “In these elite social circles, there’s so much social capital placed into getting into these elite schools,” Beka said.
Finally, this core group of parents turned to Rob Boutet, the vice president of the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and a fellow parent. They were upset that nobody had told them what was going on, that they had to find out about it from their children.
On March 2, Boutet emailed Dinh, the head of the school. “The curriculum at MCDS,” Boutet wrote, “seems to be based on trendy political theory instead of pedagogy that has strong empirical support.”
Boutet added: “The majority of the families have and are witnessing their children experiencing high levels of stress, pain, sadness and asking questions that many parents are not ready or equipped to answer and all because of the Gender self identity activity.”
In an email to parents, Dinh explained that, as early as kindergarten, “some children do not identify within a gender binary.” MCDS, she said, sought to “affirm gender identity.”
In a subsequent email to Boutet, Dinh said that parents anonymously protesting the curriculum had left many MCDS faculty “with feelings of unsafety,” especially those, she said, who were LGBTQ+.
A month later, Boutet was kicked off the DEI Committee. (He declined to comment.)
Frustrated, the Sinclairs applied for Charlotte and Carter to attend Mark Day School, another private school in Marin County. They were accepted for the upcoming fall semester.
But Paul wasn’t content to leave it at that.