New anti-bullying lessons due by Thanksgiving
School district officials laid out their plan Tuesday night to seek out a new set of anti-bullying lessons that will more specifically address bullying based on race, gender, disability and other factors. They hope to have the new lessons set to present to the school board before Thanksgiving.
The board declined to suspend the anti-gay bullying lessons trustees approved in May while the work is taking place. Trustee Trish Spencer put a motion forward to consider holding off on the lessons, which are to be taught in Alameda’s public elementary schools this fall. But it died for lack of a second.
Interim Assistant Superintendent Ruben Zepeda said he’ll put together an advisory committee with a diverse cross-section of the community – including opponents of the anti-gay bullying Lesson 9 – and a staff committee to evaluate instructional materials.
Zepeda said he intends to pull the committee of educators together to review instructional materials in mid-September, and that he wants the advisory committee to discuss the options offered in late October. Lessons would be selected by early November, and Zepeda said he hopes that Superintendent Kirsten Vital will have a recommendation to present to the board at its November 24 meeting.
Vital said the new lessons are being considered because district staff and the community don’t think the district’s current anti-violence curriculum does enough to address bullying based on race, religion and a host of other characteristics that are protected under state law.
“I think we found out that the curriculum is good. But I don’t think it is good enough and we absolutely could do better for our kids,” Vital said.
Spencer asked a string of questions about the just-passed curriculum, including whether it addressed a host of “protected” groups (no), whether the lessons would be taught on a specific date (no), if parents would be notified when the lessons would be taught (no) and whether parents would be able to opt out (the district’s lawyer suggested staff not respond, citing litigation, but the lessons okayed by the board did not come with an opt-out clause).
A “frequently asked questions” document on the lessons is due up on the district’s website this week.
Lesson 9 opponents who came to Tuesday’s School Board meeting said they’re glad the district is creating a committee to expand the curriculum. Still, they questioned the district’s decision to move forward with the lessons this year even though district officials admitted they are lacking.
“I don’t understand why the board would knowingly put the city in chaos while cool minds are prevailing,” said Pastor Dion Evans, who is leading a recall effort against three school board trustees who voted in favor of the lessons (an effort he says will continue – Evans’ group is hosting a town hall at 10 a.m. Saturday at City Hall). Still, he said he’s glad the district is putting together an advisory committee, and he hopes to be part of it.
Vital said she was reluctant to change lessons the board had approved, while one trustee, Tracy Jensen, reiterated her support.
“One of the reasons I supported the curriculum is because I heard from a lot of students who had been bullied,” Jensen said, adding that some of the lessons do address other groups.
Sean Cahill, the parent who sat on the committee that chose the curriculum, said he was glad to see the lessons are moving forward this fall while the district looks for new ones that include more groups. Cahill, who said he’d also be happy to serve on the committee, said the current lessons help correct an historic underrepresentation of gays and their families in school curriculum.
Meanwhile, the district is putting the finishing touches on a support guide for teachers to accompany the lessons, which are part of a broader anti-violence curriculum put in place in 2006 to meet state safe schools mandates.