respect for all

LGBT students get support from Fariña, but more is needed, advocates say

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen Fariña spoke at an education panel Wednesday hosted by the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City.

In the span of just a few months this year, the city’s schools became more welcoming places for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, advocates and lawmakers said Wednesday during a discussion hosted by an LGBT political club.

Since February, the city’s education department has issued guidelines to help schools support transgender students, the schools chancellor encouraged educators to discuss LGBT issues with students, and the state incorporated the gay rights movement into its history standards, speakers noted at the talk, which Chancellor Carmen Fariña and two other school officials attended.

But, they said, the city could still do much more to embrace all students.

Transgender students can still be restricted from using certain restrooms or playing competitive sports under the new guidelines. Bullying is still a major issue, yet many school staffers and students get little training on how to prevent it. And it is unclear if the city’s new social studies curriculum will incorporate gay history, they pointed out.

“We need to have a gay pride celebration in every school. We need to have a gay-straight alliance in every school,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm, a former Queens elementary school teacher who made headlines years ago when he came out as gay. “I’m tired of waiting.”

Elayna Konstan, head of the education department’s Office of Safety and Youth Development, answered a question during the panel discussion.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Elayna Konstan, head of the education department’s Office of Safety and Youth Development, answered a question during the panel discussion.

Dromm, who chairs the council’s education committee, held a hearing on LGBT students in February that Fariña attended. Soon after, she sent principals a memo promoting classroom lessons designed to give students a chance “to gain insight on and sensitivity toward the experience of their LGBT peers.”

On Wednesday, she said she had recently had such a discussion with her eight-year-old grandson, who said he sympathized with a classmate who is “a girl that wishes she was a boy.”

“It’s really, really important that we have these conversations with our kids,” Fariña said. She said that the 200 new school guidance counselors hired this year could help facilitate those discussions.

Rose Christ, vice president of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, which hosted the discussion, said the club did not know of any previous chancellor who had addressed “an LGBT organization or spoken at a public LGBT event” focused on schools.

“It’s historic that she was here tonight,” Dromm said about Fariña, who left after making her brief remarks. The officials in charge of school guidance counselors and student safety stayed and participated in the discussion.

The education department released its first-ever transgender student guidelines earlier this year.

They say that schools should allow students to dress in a way that matches their gender identity and should use students’ preferred name and pronoun, except on official records. The guidelines are less clear about which restrooms and locker rooms students may use, or whether they can participate in contact sports, saying that “the safety and comfort of all students” must be considered.

The policies represent a “tremendous step forward,” said panelist Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. But they could still be improved, he added. For instance, a transgender student who identifies as a boy but is not allowed to use the boys’ restroom “no longer feels like just another boy.”

Eunic Ortiz, president of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, asks a question during the discussion.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Eunic Ortiz, president of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, asks a question during the discussion.

While the state’s recently adopted social-studies standards cover gay history for the first time — meaning that high-school students could be tested on it — it is unclear whether the city’s soon-to-be-released history materials will include lessons on those events. Fariña did not resolve that question when asked Wednesday, saying only that she was open to discussing it further.

Since 2008, the city has required every school to designate an anti-bullying liaison and create an anti-bullying plan. Principals must train staff members on the city’s anti-discrimination policies, which prohibits mistreatment based on gender and sexuality, and students must receive at least one lesson on the discipline code, according to a department spokeswoman.

But Dromm and others noted during the discussion that the city does not require teachers to use its “Respect For All” lesson materials, and schools’ anti-bullying liaisons are the only staffers required to attend two-day trainings. Dromm added that when educators do talk about bullying with students, they sometimes leave LGBT issues out of the discussions.

The city does not record students’ gender identity or sexuality when documenting instances of school bullying or bias, making it difficult for advocates to spot trends, the panelists noted. Elayna Konstan, head of the department’s Office of Safety and Youth Development, said her office is still “exploring that with our lawyers.”

One panelist said the city should not ask students for that information, while others said the data is crucial for holding the city accountable for the safety of LGBT students.

“Our invisibility is our biggest enemy,” Dromm said.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.