protections for all in MISD schools
Galileo Church is the community organizing hub for Mansfield Equality Coalition, a group of parents, students, staff, and taxpayers in MISD, as well numerous human rights organizations, that want to see protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression added to our schools' anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and anti-bullying policies. At the April 24, 2018 school board meeting, we designated three speakers to bring our talking points to the public comments section of the meeting. Here's what they said.
Brandi Grimsley, MISD teacher and taxpayer
I would like to start by saying I am a taxpayer in MISD but much more important and rewarding is that I am finishing my 20thyear teaching, with the last fifteen right here in Mansfield. I have witnessed firsthand the sincerity and concern for our students, families, and employees here at MISD.
As teachers at MISD we have both an obligation and a privilege to serve all families and students. I am proud to be a member of this amazing district. I want to highlight a specific group that we can protect, through written policy change. Dr. Vaszauskas, Board of Trustees, you have the incredible privilege to lead MISD to protect students, families, and employees who identify as, or have a connection to the LGBTQ community.
Mansfield will be among school districts leading the way when it adds LGBTQ inclusive language to policies affecting employees and students. Already, Fort Worth, Dallas, Little Elm, Austin, Grand Prairie, Cedar Hill, El Paso, and San Antonio have introduced inclusive language into their policies. I implore you to add Mansfield to that list of frontrunners by extending protections to LGBTQ stakeholders.
Victimization among the LGBTQ population across the US continues to grow rather than decline. Unfortunately, MISD is no exception. According to local support organizations, MISD LGBTQ students overwhelmingly report being bullied at school but fear speaking up. These stories of discrimination saddens me. I want to thank you for recently adopting the TASB’s “Educator Code of Ethics” which protects colleagues and students from educator-initiated harassment based upon sexual orientation. Mansfield has the opportunity to go further by extending protection to LGBTQ victims of student-initiated bullying by implementing inclusive bullying and harassment policies.
To further illustrate this point, examine the plight of students who are being raised by LGBTQ parents. They too need to know that their family is valued. One could argue that acknowledging this may not seem age appropriate; however, early childhood studies point out that waiting creates a reality where children are saddled with “unlearning prejudice instead of preventing it,” to quote one researcher. By putting LGBTQ protections into policy, Mansfield will clearly take its stand in saying that prejudice has no place in our schools. Being able to openly engage in discussion regarding their LGBTQ family and themselves is relevant and age appropriate for ALL MISD students.
As a final note, LGBTQ employees at Mansfield deserve the same legal rights. Indeed, these employees are amazing, successful and talented individuals who can serve as role models for our LGBTQ learners. When LGBTQ teachers are not protected from discrimination, they are not allowed to truly be mentors to a precious population of Mansfield’s children. We all remember certain teachers who had a special impact on our lives. Imagine when this impact is available to LGBTQ students because they have role models to guide them.
I believe that you want all students, employees, and families at MISD to have equal protection and treatment. LGBTQ students, families, employees, and allies wearing purple tonight - as well as many allies not in attendance – look to Dr. Vaszauskas and Board Trustees to be our leaders. Lead MISD toward equality and protection. Include “Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression” into MISD’s FFI(local), FFH(local), and DIA(local) policies.
Thank You for leading us — ALL OF US — forward as a part of MISD.
Hannah Olsen, MISD parent and taxpayer
First, thank you for being here and for your continued service and commitment to the safety and wellbeing of my child and every child in our school district. We are here to represent a group of over 650 stakeholders -- parents, teachers, alumni, taxpayers -- and those who support them, from a variety of backgrounds. Just like all of you, our highest concern is to ensure the safety and well-being of all students in Mansfield ISD, to support an affirming and respectful academic environment where they can all thrive.
Part of that environment is learning about the people around you, and the historical figures who came before you, learning how to appreciate diversity, and making peace with those who disagree with you. Unfortunately, people have trouble with this, and so we have bullying and discrimination, harassment, and retaliation policies to protect people so that they have recourse if such things occur, and therefore feel safe to be who they are and, in the case of teachers, feel free to teach about people who fall into those categories, support their students who fall into those categories, and if they themselves are LGBT, feel able to speak about their families without fear of discriminatory retaliation.
As you know, the discrimination, harassment, and retaliation policies of MISD do not include sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity. While the current policies are intended to be all-inclusive, the lack of an explicit policy leaves loopholes that hamper those who need to take action against bullying and discrimination. Unless those words are in print, enforcement will continue to be minimal or nonexistent and our students will continue to be bullied. Teachers and administrators need policies in writing in order to be able to do their jobs.
In elementary school, students get to be the Star of the Week, and create a poster talking about themselves and their families. This includes the children with two moms or two dads. Right now, if the other children choose to say discriminatory, mean-spirited things about that child’s family, they have no explicit recourse in the policies. And the teacher, if he or she wants to defend the student, could run afoul of prejudiced adults, and have no place to stand.
In classes, students learn about historical figures and what in their lives led them to be who they are. Right now, a teacher who chose to speak about a person who is LGBT and how that formed their work could get in trouble for speaking about that aspect of a person’s life, as it may be viewed as controversial.
In high school, students are in an intense time of learning who they are, and wondering if they are valuable and worthy human beings. For those who realize they are LGBT, and dare to live accordingly, the snide comments are the least of it. Right now, that student could go to a trusted adult in the school, tell them what is happening, and that adult could find that because of these loopholes, there is no recourse.
As a parent I want amazing teachers for my child. As a former student I know how important they can be. As someone who values diversity I want my child’s teachers to be able to speak about their families, their beliefs, their lives, in passing -- to be who they are so my child can learn from them. This diversity includes those who are LGBT. Right now, a teacher who mentions his spouse to his students, just like all teachers do, but who also happens to be gay, could have a parent who is against same-sex marriage decide that they do not want their children exposed to that. Even though many would believe one person’s right to keep their children sheltered from alternate viewpoints ends where another person’s legal marriage and family arrangement begins, the policies are not there, and the loophole is vast.
My child is in Mansfield ISD and I have valued the diversity at her school so much. What if my child has friends whose parents are gay? What if my child has teachers who are gay? What if my child is gay? What will my child learn from how the institution that controls her education handles diversity?
In order to protect and support every student and teacher, the FFI Local, FFH Local, and DIA local policies MUST be amended to include sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity in the freedom from bullying and discrimination, harassment, and retaliation policies.
Rev. Dr. Katie Hays, MISD parent, pastor, and taxpayer
My husband and I have lived here for eight years. Our daughter graduated from MHS in the top 10% of her class last year and is a freshman in TCU’s Honors College. Our son is a junior at MHS and was inducted into the National Honor Society a few weeks ago. But what I’m most proud of is that both of my kids were founding members of the MHS Gay-Straight Alliance.
In addition to my family, I’m here tonight to represent Galileo Church, a Christian community that I founded in Mansfield 5 years ago, and all the friends we have gathered in support of adding specific protections for staff and students to the policies of Mansfield ISD.
When we became aware a couple of months ago that our school’s policies did not include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression among the protected facets of the diversity of human identity, we knew immediately that we would find a way to come alongside you, the MISD school board and superintendent, in a collaborative effort to make sure that every child, and every person with a vocation for educating children, would find MISD a safe and hospitable place for their life’s work. We were so glad to find that so many of you were responsive to our calls and emails the last several weeks. We have high hopes that Mansfield will be at the forefront of Texas school districts for the protection of LGBTQ+ persons in our system.
While my role as a Christian pastor may indicate that my interest in this matter is primarily theological, which it is, I am also a deeply practical person with an interest in the economic health of our city and its schools. I have been present in meetings in small Texas town governments all the way to Austin in which forward-thinking business owners have expressed concern about the atmosphere into which they would bring their employees and their employees’ families if they located here or there. Jeff Bezos recently revealed that protections for LGBTQ persons will be key in his decision for the location of Amazon.com’s second company headquarters; and Dallas-Fort Worth sent my colleague, the Rev. Dr. Neil Cazares-Thomas, to assure him of the metroplex’s generous welcome to LGBTQ persons and families.
I know that Mansfield eagerly pursues businesses large and small to grow our tax base and continue to improve our city. It is important to assure them that we who already live here are mindful of the diverse persons and families whose work would make them our neighbors, and that we have been proactively thinking about how to communicate our wide welcome through our schools.
I also understand how important it is that our public schools retain enrollment of students against the rising tide of charter schools. My family is staunchly pro-public education, and I serve alongside Rev. Charles Johnson in Pastors for Texas Children, a group of clergypersons who advocate at every level for Texas public schools to be generously and consistently funded by taxpayer dollars. But charter schools in the metroplex are getting ahead of us in providing protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Uplift Education, the largest network of charter schools in DFW, including nearby campuses in Arlington and Grand Prairie, boasts on its website about the safe space Uplift charter schools provide for LGBTQ students and staff.
Adopting protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in the FFI local, FFH local, and DIA local policies is going to be a help to countless students and staff members of Mansfield ISD, and it will put Mansfield in the news for the best reason of all: because we are people of fearless generosity and unlimited kindness.
Thank you for your good work. Please know that we are in prayer for you, and that we are available to help you in any way we can.