Illinois school district removes GLSEN materials

Thu. June 7, 2012 8:46 AM by Alex Sennello

Erie, IL - Following a 2-5 school board vote on May 22, the Erie Community School District, located Northwest Illinois, has motioned to remove The Family Book by Todd Parr, which mentions that "some families have two moms or two dads", and any other materials sponsored or created by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) from the elementary school's character development program after an undisclosed number of community members complained that anything queer related "shouldn't be taught at the elementary school level."

Despite saying that the school board's decision is being left open to interpretation and is not an official ban, when asked what would happen if a teacher decided to attempt and make their classroom a more accepting place for queer students and children of nontraditional families, Bradley Cox, the school's superintendent said that this "would be insubordination," and that punitive actions taken against the educator "would be determined on a case by by case basis."

Superintendent Cox stressed that protecting all students "always has been" a priority of the school, and that of the schools he has worked with, "Erie's has the best character education program" he has seen.

The curriculum used by the elementary school to help foster support for diversity and develop understanding is known as Second Step, and does not specifically address the needs of gender and sexual minority youth. According to Cox, this program, and its exclusions, are "not only effective, but what is appropriate."

As is presented in GLSEN's Playgrounds and Prejudice, a study of elementary school climate published earlier this year, 45% of students in grades K-5 reported that they hear the word "gay" used in a negative light sometimes, often, or all the time, and that a little over one quarter of students and teachers report hearing students say epithets like "fag" or "lesbo."

While no research has been done that specifically looks at the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs and policies that explicitly talk about issues of gender and sexuality at the elementary school level, GLSEN's 2009 School Climate Survey found that older students who went to schools that specifically listed lesbian gay bisexual and transgender students as being protected by institution's anti bullying policy were significantly less likely to be harassed because of their gender or sexuality in school, compared to those who went to school that did not address queer students in their anti-bullying policies.

Kilomarie Dunn, a literacy teacher for the Morris Area Elementary School in Morris, Minnesota, where she and her wife choose to send their children, says that bans of this nature send a strong negative message that gay and trans issue are inappropriate to discuss in a classroom setting.

"As a mother," Dunn says, "I have seen my own daughter, who was four, told that she needed to not hold hands with another student because of her moms and how it was ‘inappropriate' to hold hands with another girl, as a friend, because cause it was ‘gay'."

Dunn also reports students, particularly older students, regularly being called homophobic and transphobic slurs -- she even accounts an instance from when she first got into teaching where an elementary school student was sexually assaulted by two women because of his perceived sexual orientation.

As a gay woman and parent, Dunn has faced her own challenges due to her identity and experience in school. She says that two of her students saw her family picture on her desk and told their parents that she had a wife, which lead to an informal investigation and her boss asking her to not talk about her family and hide the picture from students.

GLSEN released a formal statement Wednesday:

"GLSEN is in the process of reaching out to district officials in the Erie Community Unit School District to understand their decision to reject the unanimous decision of a community-based committee in favor of the adoption of Ready, Set, Respect! in the district. Their further move to limit the use of our materials to grades 6-12 is both puzzling and deeply counter-productive. GLSEN has a stellar track record of providing educationally and developmentally appropriate resources to thousands of districts across the country for grades K-5, and our materials for the elementary grades enjoy broad support throughout the education and youth development worlds.

"Given the district's stated goals for student learning, GLSEN's elementary school resources including both Ready, Set, Respect! and No Name-Calling Week are uniquely well-positioned to help advance those goals. No Name-Calling Week has been implemented throughout Erie in the past, and this current decision represents a step backwards for the community.

"GLSEN's resources for grades K-5 are produced in partnership with and endorsed by leading national organizations focused on early childhood education, including the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association of Elementary School Principals. They have been demonstrated to contribute to better, healthier learning environments for all students. We look forward to discussion with Erie district officials to understand and respond to their concerns and provide them with better information regarding the quality and effectiveness of our materials."

Article by Alex Sennello, a contributing youth journalist. and the Network welcomes contributions by community journalists. Contact the editor for more information.

From the Windy City Times:
School district in controversy over GLSEN curriculum