SCHOOL BOARD OKAYS NEW ANTI-BULLYING LESSONS, RETAINS LESSON 9
The School Board decided Tuesday night to adopt new anti-bullying lessons for the district’s elementary schools and to retain a lesson intended to halt anti-gay bullying until new ones that specifically address bullying on the basis of race and ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, religion and disability can be put into place.
The board first voted, 4-1, to retain the district’s existing Caring School Community lessons for grades K-2 and to implement a new curriculum, Steps to Respect, for grades 3-5. Trustee Tracy Jensen voted against the motion, which was put forward by Board Vice President Mike McMahon.
The process then tumbled into chaos as trustees argued about whether to move forward on the rest of Superintendent Kirsten Vital’s recommendations and whether the vote meant Lesson 9, the anti-gay bullying lesson the board adopted in May, was no more. Vital’s other recommendations included adopting Links to Literature, a guide to character-building literature, and moving forward on creating a list of books designed to address bullying based on each of the six “protected classes” (the list I laid out in the lede).
Trustee Trish Herrera Spencer, who said the issue had torn apart the community, said repeatedly that she felt the earlier vote was final and no more motions could be made.
“You are not the only board member,” new board President Ron Mooney said.
Trustee Tracy Jensen then put forward a second motion – which was read several times so everyone understood what they were voting on – to retain Lesson 9 until a replacement that specifically addresses all six of the “protected classes” is put together by Vital and adopted by the board. The board voted 4-1, with Spencer voting no, to put the motion forward.
“We have Lesson 9. It meets the needs right now of students and families,” Jensen said. “We have to protect our students … Let’s not go backwards.”
Jensen and McMahon said they want the community involved in selecting new books to advance its bullying prevention efforts, while Mooney said he’d be glad to see the book list later, rather than sooner, in order to ensure that there’s enough time to get it done right.
Vital’s recommendation was for the teacher committee that helped select the curriculum to put together the book list based in part on community input, and for the list to go to the board for approval in February. She opted not to recommend the use of another book, “Open Minds to Equality,” that teachers said was not appropriate for elementary school students.
The votes followed a contentious public speaking period that saw proponents of the superintendent’s recommendation booing and laughing at opponents who spoke and opponent accusations that the teacher committee that evaluated and recommended the new lessons carried a pro-gay agenda.
“Unfortunately, the teachers felt the responsibility to advance the LGBT cause,” said Alaina Stewart, a parent who had earlier spoken out against Lesson 9. Stewart drew hisses when she suggested the board abandon efforts to put a new parcel tax on the ballot if parents were not allowed to help select anti-bullying books.
Opponents said they thought the district should focus on academics and forget about creating specific lessons, which they said were too divisive.
Proponents, dozens of whom appeared to show their support for Vital’s recommendation, said more specific lessons are needed to combat bullying and that Lesson 9 should not be lost.
“It breaks my heart to think my little son could be sitting in carpet time waiting in vain to see his family represented,” said Kathy Passmore, a district teacher and parent who is also a lesbian. “I can’t believe anyone would be against anything that would make any child feel safe. I hope you would show the common sense and the courage to keep Lesson 9.”
Separately, the board elected new leaders Tuesday night, with Mooney taking the president’s chair and former president Mike McMahon shuffling into Mooney’s previous role as vice president. Spencer had nominated Jensen for the seat, but Mooney won on a 3-2 boys-vs-girls vote. Jensen had nominated Spencer for vice president, but McMahon got the seat on the same vote.