School board debates new anti-bullying lessons
School district administrators said Tuesday night that they were unable to meet their self-imposed Thanksgiving deadline to come up with a new anti-bullying curriculum that includes specific lessons to tackle bullying based on race and ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality and sexual orientation – and some School Board trustees questioned whether they should.
The admission came as administrators laid out recommendations for a new anti-bullying curriculum for the Island’s grade schoolers that some feared could erase just-passed lessons meant to reduce anti-gay bullying and harassment. It came before a crowd that was far smaller than those that greeted the board as they debated those lessons, which have been dubbed Lesson 9.
The board is to make a decision on the new lessons on December 8.
“The expectation of the board was to bring back both policy and explicit anti-bullying curriculum, a more explicit curriculum that addresses all protected classes. I believe we tried. Such a curriculum does not exist,” Superintendent Kirsten Vital told the school board. She said the teacher advisory committee tasked with reviewing new instructional materials worked to assemble pieces into something that addressed the board’s expectations.
Instead, administrators recommended that the district add a new set of lessons for grades 3-5, called Steps to Respect, on top of their existing Caring School Community curriculum. And they said they’d work with members of the teacher and community committees that reviewed the materials to come up with a list of books that addressed bullying based on each of the protected classes (see my lead for the list), for each grade level.
The book list could come to the board in February, with teacher guides for the books to be worked on in the spring. The new plan could cost the district $50,000.
Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer, who had opposed Lesson 9 because she said it wasn’t inclusive enough, questioned whether the board would want to spend the time that she said would be needed to do the new lessons well. And Trustee Tracy Jensen asked if teachers who Vital said are not all teaching the district’s existing anti-bullying curriculum would have the time to squeeze in six new lessons each year. Jensen had voted in favor of Lesson 9.
Steps to Respect includes books that address challenges faced by youths based on race and nationality, but Zepeda said that’s a coincidence, and not by design.
Some of the committee members said they’re concerned that the efforts could end up eliminating Lesson 9, instead of building on it.
“The board did not direct staff to retreat from Lesson 9. To drop it now, to me, seems like backsliding,” Zoe Holder, a member of the community advisory committee who favored Lesson 9, told the board.
She said the board should consider including a book called “Open Minds to Equality,” which Zepeda said he didn’t recommend because several of the community committee members opposed its use.
But two members of the committee who had also opposed Lesson 9 said the book lifts some people up at the expense of others. Kerry Cook and Kellie Wood, who served on the community committee, said the book is anti-Christian and that it attacks heterosexuals.
“It is a militant activist manual that was picked to politicize our kids’ classrooms. It’s Lesson 9 on steroids,” Wood said.