In the Informed Parents of Austin Facebook Group, the question comes up a lot about how parents and teachers can make sure that they are helping create a safe and inclusive learning environment for LGBTQ students.
I wish I could take credit for having a fabulous list of suggestions, but the truth is there are amazing organizations and writers covering this exact subject on a regular basis. In fact, GLSEN has an entire section of their website dedicated to the most granular level of inclusion topics for educators and you can find them all right here.
Since parents and teachers are some of the busiest people in the world, I’m going to do some cherry-picking of the easiest and most turn-key tips that you can put in place right away. I do encourage you to take a deep dive into the materials I link to though since many of us who are CIS-gender & hetero allies often aren’t aware of the level of discrimination present in even the most seemingly “everyday” parts of the education system.
Austin ISD kicked off LGBTQ Pride Month this week by raising the Pride flag during a ceremony at the district’s headquarters. The Pride flag will remain in place for the week of June 3rd and will also fly over the courtyard the week of October 7th, in honor of AISD’s district-wide Pride Week.
On February 25th, Austin ISD’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously on a revised human sexuality curriculum scope and sequence which would finally guarantee students across the district access to science-based, comprehensive sex-ed that is inclusive of LGBTQ students.
The fight is far from over though as the board will be voting on the final lessons plans in May or June. Be sure to follow our Facebook Page & Facebook Group to learn how you can help support us at these important meetings.
Since that meeting, we have received many requests from parents in other school districts all around Texas, and across the country, who want to know if Informed Parents of Austin can help them get comprehensive, inclusive sex ed and LGBTQ inclusion policies in their school districts.
Yes, and no.
Yes, we can provide you with a toolkit of all the important things we’ve learned these past couple of years so you can hit the ground running and start getting parents in your community Informed and Involved today.
But, no – we can’t do the work for you. The only thing that made this change a reality was local parents showing up and doing the work. Whether writing letters to the school board or showing up at SHAC meetings, there is no short cut. As much as I would love to show up to all of your district’s board meetings, the trustees from each district only want to hear from parents and guardians in their district.
The good news: the work itself is not “hard.” Sure, you may have to show up to a meeting for a couple hours once a month, but if you can make time for a Netflix binge night, you can make time to ensure that all students in your school district have a health curriculum that helps keep them mentally and physically safe and healthy.
We’re in the process of working on our toolkit now, so sign up below if you would like to be notified as pieces are added and be sure to follow us on Facebook and join our Facebook group. (Please note that due to an increased level of questionable group requests, we are being extra diligent in our screening.)
In the meantime, go to Google and search your district’s School Board and SHAC meeting dates as well as your school’s Campus Advisory Council meeting dates and put them on your calendar. Look up their public comment policies and get comfortable speaking for two minutes in support of ALL students in your district. Don’t worry, our toolkit will have lots of talking points to help get you started.
Thanks for your interest and thanks for all you do to support ALL students in your district.
I was disappointed to receive a letter from Dr. Goodnow stating that despite an overwhelmingly favorable vote on the SHAC Health Subcommittee’s recommendation to move forward with the proposed revised human sexuality and responsibility curriculum, there will be a one-year delay in implementing this curriculum.
I was at the June 6th SHAC meeting where the proposal was presented and have been at almost every SHAC meeting during the 2017-18 school year. During the public comment period of each of these meetings, I have used my two minutes to share my support, as well as the support of the almost 1,000 members of the Informed Parents of Austin Group, for comprehensive sex education that is inclusive of the needs of LGBTQ students. Read more
One of the most powerful actions you can take to support LGBTQ kids and families in your school district is to attend your district’s SHAC meetings.
SHAC stands for School Health Advisory Council. In addition to doing important things like making sure our kids have healthy lunches and excellent physical education programs, SHAC boards also guide school districts’ policies on LGBTQ inclusion and preparedness/sensitivity training for teachers as well as age-appropriate sex-ed programs for students.
We focus a lot on the Austin Independent School District in this group, but the fact is that ALL school districts have SHACs, and no matter where you live, if you care about defending your kids against vocal anti-LGBTQ groups and groups demanding abstinence only “sex ed” then you need to start getting involved in these meetings, or even sign up to be a SHAC board member.
I’m listing the contact information for the SHACs in the Austin area here, but please take a moment to google “__________ SHAC” (with the _______ being your school district) to find their meeting dates or even sign up to be considered for the board.
If you’re a little introvert and nervous about attending (like I was,) I’ve put together a little “How to Attend a SHAC Meeting” about how our meetings in AISD work. I’m guessing they are similar in other districts, but this at least will help give you the assurance that they are not scary. You do not need to talk. You just need to be there, and be informed.
I am not sure about your district’s SHAC meetings, but ours are regularly visited by vocal members of groups specifically designed to shame and block the rights of the LGBTQ community. Our general rule is to not engage with these people and to focus your efforts on the SHAC board members who have the power to influence change.
If your district is like ours, and already has programs that support the rights for ALL students, then simply show them your appreciation and offer your support for future programs. If your district does not have programs in place that support equal rights for LGBTQ students and families, join our group, and we’ll get you the resources to help.
One of the most effective ways to let key decision makers at AISD know that you support initiatives that support the LGBTQ+ community is to attend the monthly SHAC meetings and sign in as representing “Informed Parents of Austin.”
It can be a bit confusing and intimidating the first time you attend any new gathering, so here is a quick overview of what to expect when you attend a SHAC meeting.
Know where & when to go: The meetings are the first Wednesday of every month from 6:30pm – 8:00pm in a meeting room at the new AISD Headquarters located at 4000 S. IH-35 Frontage Road, 78704 unless specified otherwise. (See map below)
Someone will be at the main door to provide access and directions to the meeting room on the 2nd floor The full schedule, agenda for the upcoming meeting and minutes from past meeting are all available here. Always check for the latest information here before attending.
When You Arrive: There will be a table with a sign up sheet, agendas as well as the Speaker & Comment cards. At the beginning of each regular meeting of a district advisory body, time will be provided for public comments.
At the time of this post, the SHAC public comment period is typically 10-15 minutes, and speakers are usually allowed 2 minutes each. Speakers may be asked to sit in a designated area until called upon by the presiding officer to speak.
You can read all the Communication Rules here, but here’s the most important part: “Persons wishing to provide public comments will be asked to fill out a speaker card. Persons wishing to speak must acknowledge on the speaker card that they have read these requirements. Persons will be called upon to speak usually in the order speaker cards were received. However, in cases of large numbers of persons wishing to speak, cards may be drawn randomly, at the discretion of the committee coordinator. If persons who have signed up to speak do not have an opportunity to do so because time runs out, they may provide written comments on the card provided. In addition, any person may provide written comments without signing up to speak.”
Where to Sit: The SHAC board members sit at the tables and there is typically a separate seating section for guests.
The Meeting: Here’s a sample agenda to give you an idea of the flow of the meetings and topics discussed. The public comment period is at the the beginning of the meeting and is limited so definitely bring hand outs in case due to time constraints, you only have the opportunity to provide written comments.
Do I HAVE to DO Anything?! As a SHAC meeting guest, you are under no obligation to speak at any time – You can truly just act as a “fly on the wall” while taking in the information discussed.
If you do have something you want to say, but are hesitant to speak in front of the group, you can submit a written statement on one of the comment cards which are located on the table as you enter the room.
Since these written comments are kept with the records of the meeting, (and the “anti” groups are definitely submitting their comments,) even if I don’t have a specific, urgent topic, I encourage you to submit a general statement of support, such as:
My name is _________ and I am one of the 1,500+ members of The Informed Parents of Austin. I would like to thank the SHAC board for continuing to support programs that encourage equality and inclusiveness for LGBTQ+ students and families. I also support your efforts to include age appropriate sex education in the AISD curriculum. I, and the Informed Parents of Austin, are here to support you in any way to ensure these programs are made available to all students in AISD.
Note: The SHAC board is there to attend to a wide variety of subjects pertaining to the health of our students and AISD staff, from Physical Education programs and Lunch Menus to staff insurance plans and school nurse coverage. During any given meeting, there is very little chance that any LGBTQ+ or sex ed topics will be raised, and even if they are, as observing guests we are not allowed to comment on them during the discussion when guests are each allowed two minutes to give a brief statement. We are there to get information, be a counter-presence to the anti-groups and let the SHAC board know that we support their inclusion initiatives.
There are typically several anti-group representatives present at these meetings. I have learned to follow the HRC’s recommendation to not engage with people who are fighting against our goals, but to support the decision makers who support equality for LGBTQ+ students and families.