What Queer Parents Should Ask School Board Candidates
…AND WHAT THEY OUGHT TO TELL YOU IN RESPONSE
reprinted from The Safe Schools Coalition, Seattle, Washington Safe Schools Coalition website
CAVEAT: Some voters prefer idealism and passion in a candidate. Others prefer pragmatism. Know that, in some more conservative school districts, giving a “best” answer (below) might be political suicide. A candidate who gives you a “good” or “better” answer may be more electable than one who gives you a “best” answer. And he or she may, in the long run, be a more effective agent of change depending upon his or her people skills. A school board member needs not only the right values, but also the ability to influence colleagues on the board to make real policy changes and to cajole a district’s superintendent into meaningful implementation.
STUDENT RIGHTS AND SAFETY
Q: “What has your district done – or what will you do if you’re elected – to address harassment, bullying and intimidation?”
Good: We will be incorporating new bullying training materials into our annual staff development events in order to ensure that all staff members are aware of their responsibilities to uphold the policies.
Better: THAT AND …We required that every school develop an anonymous reporting procedure. We shortened the time allowed for investigating an incident prior to its resolution. We have set up an accountability plan within the district so that incidents serious enough to lead to written reports will be archived, studied and reported regularly to the Board.
Best: THAT AND …We formed a committee that includes teachers, family members and students from diverse backgrounds to ensure that our district goes beyond the letter of the law to become truly safe. On the committee’s recommendation, student handbooks and teacher orientation materials have been modified to give clear age-appropriate examples of harassment including incidents targeting someone’s race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, and physical attributes. We are in the process of developing new curriculum segments for all grade levels so that we may educate students on the importance of respecting differences and to teach skills (expected behaviors) for students who witness harassment or bullying. All members of our school community will be actively engaged this year in the process of understanding the harm caused by harassment and bullying, and the value of honoring differences.
Q: If a student identifies as other-gendered from his or her biological sex, what should the school do regarding the student’s identity?
Good: The school should already have gender education curriculum modules in place that discuss the variety of gender expression, dispel myths about gender differences, and address bullying and harassment specifically. But this student’s peers should, especially, be offered such curriculum.
Better: THAT AND …As with other special needs students, the school should work in concert with the student, his or her family and other adult allies to see that the student’s unique needs are being addressed and all options considered. Special arrangements such as access to a private lavatory or changing area should be considered if this would be safer for the student and is something the student wants.
Best: THAT AND …If the student wishes to be called by a new name and/or prefers different gender pronouns, with the advice of a psychologist and/or with the consent of the family, the school should respect those wishes.
Q: A 2nd grader calls another student a faggot. What should the teacher say and why?
Good: The teacher should tell the student that name-calling is not allowed (e.g., “’Faggot’ is a mean word for a gay person and we don’t use mean words or put-downs here.”). And the teacher should state the consequences if it continues (e.g., “If you use that kind of mean language again, you’ll miss a recess.”). The teacher should also assess the impact on the student who was targeted, and if it appears to be an ongoing problem, contact the child’s family as well as the family of the bully.
Better: THAT AND …It’s not too young at second grade to say, “I have friends who are gay and it hurts me to hear you say that kind of thing.” The teacher should also include discussions of the various forms of name-calling in lessons on classroom citizenship, helping students develop compassion for any targeted peer and skills for standing up to bullies.
Best: THAT AND …The teacher should also report ongoing bullying or harassment to his or her supervisor and to the staff in general, so that others can be alert for ongoing problems.
Q: Suppose a group of students wants to form a “Gay-Straight Alliance” and their principal denies the application, fearing it will be too controversial. The students contact you. What will you do? What should the district administration do?
Good: I recognize that under the Federal Equal Access Act, the students have just as much of a right to meet as any other non-curricular student club on the campus. I would make sure that our attorney conveyed this fact to the Superintendent and the Principal.
Better: THAT AND …In fact, I would make sure that every responsible staff person is informed of the legal issues and their legal obligations. On a personal level, I would listen to the students’ concerns and convey them myself to the Superintendent, along with my whole-hearted support for such a club and my understanding of why it’s so important. And I would encourage the students to get back to me if the Principal’s resistance continues. And I would be a spokesperson to my constituents in the community to educate them about these issues if a public controversy were to develop.
Best: THAT AND …I will work with our legal counsel and my colleagues on the Board to clarify or modify our non-discrimination policies and procedures in this regard.
Q: Should public institutions which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation allow Boy Scouts to recruit on school grounds or in school facilities? Please explain and discuss your rationale.
Good: I recognize the dilemma that many local troops face. They are not the ones in charge of setting the discriminatory policies that could prevent them from access to public locations for meetings such as schools. I think schools should work with troops on a case-by-case basis and allow access to those troops who state, in writing, that they do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Better: THAT AND …No, they should not. I realize that federal law (ESEA) prohibits us from banning the Boy Scouts from meeting in public school facilities, regardless of their discriminatory policies, but we aren’t required by law to permit their recruiting on campus. I think schools should stop allowing the Boy Scouts to send home recruitment literature in little kids’ backpacks or to set up information tables in high schools.
Best: THAT AND …I will work with our legal counsel and my colleagues on the Board to pass a policy to that effect.
Q: Every school district has children who have LGBT parents. What are the major problems facing these students and their families in relation to the school system?
Good: Students can be harassed and bullied by other students based on their families’ structure. And they get hurt, even if they aren’t personally targeted, by having to overhear casually cruel comments such as the ubiquitous “That’s so gay!” We should protect them from bullying.
Better: THAT AND …They may also feel judged by adults at schools. When schools fail to acknowledge the presence of LGBT families, students may feel like they shouldn’t bother to invite their families to school events and their families may be less inclined to partner with us. We should put up posters and signs to acknowledge that all families are welcome. We should address letters home to “The family of …” rather than to “The mother and father of …” a child. We should ensure that every adult in a child’s life feels welcome to attend all school events, including parent-teacher conferences, and to volunteer in the classroom.
Best: THAT AND …Besides, invisibility in text books of some children’s families, and subtle messages that their family is ’alternative’ or ’different’ can damage students’ self-esteem. The library collection and the curriculum should address LGBT-parented families.
Q: Studies show that parent involvement enhances academic performance but many LGBT parents and guardians feel unwelcome. What can schools do to encourage their involvement?
Good: Schools that treat all families equally will improve their rapport with LGBT-parented families. When families come to trust that their experiences in a school will be positive, they will become more comfortable in the building.
Better: THAT AND …We need to communicate to LGBT parents and guardians that our building is an inclusive community. We can do this by displaying LGBT posters, making sure that forms are appropriate for a variety of different kinds of families, and ensuring respectful interactions with all families. Not only do we need to treat parents and guardians with equal respect regardless of their sexual orientation, we need to overcome the transgressions of past schools with which those families may have had negative interactions.
Best: THAT AND …Our curricula should include LGBT issues. And ALL staff (including support staff) should receive cultural competence or anti-bias training.
Q: If a prominent citizen referred to LGBT students or parents by saying publicly that “we don’t want their kind in schools,” what would your response be?
Good: That it is our mandate as a PUBLIC school system to teach all children.
Better: THAT AND …I would invite that public figure to lunch and try to understand the context in which they made that statement. I would make the district’s mandate clear to them and ask them to refrain from publicly attacking our students and their families.
Best: THAT AND …I would make a public statement reiterating the school board’s committment to inclusive policies and to upholding the Constitution’s promise of equal treatment of all by their government. I would participate if there were a community-based public action such as a rally. There, I would articulate the ways in which our district supports LGBT families (through explicitly protective bullying and anti-discrimination policies, staff training, etc.)
Q: Should books depicting LGBT-parented families such as “Heather Has Two Mommies” or “Daddy’s Roommate” or “How Would You Feel If Your Dad Was Gay?” be used in public schools? If so, how?
Good: Students should have access to literature about all kinds of families and should be able to see normalized reflections of their own families in schools. Our libraries should collect such books in a section about families and should display the books during Pride month.
Better: THAT AND …Books depicting LGBT families should also be on the shelves in every elementary classroom.
Best: THAT AND …In fact, they should be part of the curriculum in every elementary school and LGBT issues should be incorporated into every subject at all grades. Since the replacement of current texts is a time-consuming and expensive process, supplemental materials and training should be provided to teachers immediately. Teachers need to be adequately trained to present culturally competent curricula in non-biased ways, and it’s the district’s responsibility to ensure that all teachers receive that training.
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