Teachers pen letter to school board addressing LGBTQ+ guidelines
Open letter to PRJUSD Board:
“Our mission is to deliver an exemplary education in a safe environment which empowers students with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for success in an ever-changing world.”
-Mission Statement of Paso Robles Joint Unified School District
– Teachers of Paso Robles School District strive every day to create a safe environment for their students. As teachers at Paso Robles High School, we know that providing an “exemplary education” is only possible through the creation of a safe environment. Yet the words and actions of our school board members threaten that safe environment and open our district to legal action by willfully disregarding the very real needs of our LGBTQIA+ students.
Last year, a student desecrated a pride flag taken from a PRHS classroom and posted the video online. In the wake of this hateful action, our district had to confront the reality that many LGBTQIA+ students remain unsafe and unsupported. Students held a forum to stand up to hate and share the difficulties of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer at the high school.
After the forum, Superintendent Dr. Curt Dubost assembled a task force of students, administrators, and teachers to plan a way forward. Eventually, the district released a public commitment to “a comprehensive approach aligned to the required legal protections to address the needs of our LGBTQIA+ students.” An Action Plan was developed and progress made. The district acknowledged that LGBTQIA+ students face enormous social and emotional pressures, and said it “will not compromise,” on the health, welfare, and safety of our LGBTQIA+ students.
Earlier this month, our board reversed course, proposing changes to board policy on harassment and discrimination that would erase most references to LGBTQIA+ students, such as ways “to ensure that intersex, nonbinary, transgender, and gender-nonconforming students are afforded the same rights, benefits, and protections provided to all students by law and Board policy.” Though the proposal was tabled pending a study session, the board continues to reveal an indifference to anti-gay bullying. Moreover, the board’s next proposed action is a resolution affirming the “use of traditional nouns and pronouns.” With a board like this, who needs bullies?
Teachers are frustrated. We want to know why the board would take away policies that further protect our students? Who is hurt by these protections? What message will be sent by literally erasing LGBTQIA+ student representation? Such action betrays the trust and progress being built by staff and students to promote safe spaces at their school.
The board displays a lack of understanding about the daily lived experiences of our students. As teachers working daily in classrooms with these students, we hear just how unsafe they feel at school. Not only are our students going through the universal struggle of trying to find their place in the world, they are doing so as LGBTQIA+ students who have historically faced a lack of visibility, acceptance, and respect.
They relay to us as trusted adults emotional stories of harassment and willful ignorance perpetrated by students and staff alike. Many have reported direct threats (in person and online) including threats to their lives. Many feel ignored, unsupported, and unheard by school leaders. Furthermore, we’ve learned from the SLO County Healthy Kids Survey found that 50-percent of all LGBTQIA+ students reported “recent thoughts of suicide.”
School should be a place where students feel safe to be themselves as they are allowed safe access to an “exemplary education.” Unlike school staff, our LGBTQIA+ students are mandated to attend our schools and receive a public education, funded by California, with all the protections that CA and federal law provides. This is a life and death matter of school safety.
We do not want tragedy or lawsuits to define the future of our district, but it is clear that this board is willing to put the safety of our LGBTQIA+ students at risk by ignoring (and potentially removing) their legal rights and protections. As teachers, we will continue protecting our students, even if the board fails to. And we urge the community to voice their support for our LGBTQIA+ students – at board meetings and at the ballot box — before ignorance and intolerance strip vital protections from our school and classrooms.
This open letter was signed by PRHS teachers Geoffrey Land, Josh Gwiazda, Jennifer Fuller, Gaylene Ewing, Alisa Bredensteiner, Haley Talbert, Jeff Mount, BreAnne Cerda, Alicia Witman, Michael Witman, Erica Diaz, Christopher Smith, Seth Draine, Marisa Scoggins, Stephanie Lowe, Evan Holtz, and Brenda Matthysse.