About a month ago Michigan public school teachers attended mandatory professional development sessions on providing safe learning environments for LGBTQ students. The program caused enough discussion that school districts reached out to the State Board of Education for help.
The State Board of Education and the Michigan Department of Education developed the guidance at the request of schools and educators asking for recommendations of best practices in creating more supportive learning environments for LGBTQ students, who are at greater risk of suicide, and are not succeeding academically absent a supportive school environment.
School districts across the state found their policies concerning bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students horribly inadequate. Most school staff and teachers are unaware of how out of touch they are with the reality of the problems LGBTQ students face every day in school. At the beginning of the workshop last month, every staff member had to introduce who they were and what pronouns they use. “Pronouns? Why would I need to tell people my pronouns,” was a question many of the attendees asked. They had never heard of such a thing. The levels of confusion from the staff indicate how unprepared our public schools are for making them safe for everyone.
At the request of the state’s school districts, the State Board of Education and the Michigan Department of Education partnered with members of the LGBTQ community to draw up a set of guidelines for assisting public school districts with developing more inclusive policies to ensure all students feel safe at school. With any policy like this, the State Boar of Education requested public input on the guidelines.
What’s happened since then could potentially make adopting a policy designed to keep our kids safe into a battleground over which bathroom or locker room a student uses based on gender identity, to parent concerns that publics schools are using the issue to undermine the authority of parents by ensuring safe space for children while they are at school. Right wing media such as Daily Caller launched articles using this horrible graphic to alarm parents what Michigan public schools are doing will make children less safe at school.
Counting on people to react with fear made what should be an exercise to modify policy and ensure the safety of all children at school into a political fight. Republicans so far have been swift in punishing the State Board of Education with retaliatory moves such as stripping members of travel reimbursement and per diem, and demanding that the State Board of Education should have given parents more time to comment on the guidelines. House Speaker Kevin Cotter demanded the extension and remarked, “My hope is at the end the board will change course and not issue that recommendation.” In other words, not allow school districts to adopt the guidelines that would ensure all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, to feel safe at school. Student drop-out rates and suicides are higher with LGBTQ school students because school is not always a safe place for them to be.
The Michigan State Board of Education did extend the deadline comment from the public. Anyone who wishes to leave a comment can do so here. You have until May 11, 2016 to be heard.
Hopefully, enough people who support providing guidelines for all of the children who attend Michigan public schools to learn in a safe environment will take the time to fill out the simple form. The State Board of Education needs positive support for the hard work they put into doing the right thing for our kids.