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 the Carruth Auditorium Board Room at 1111 West Sixth Street. The full schedule, agenda for the upcoming meeting and minutes from past meeting are all available here.
Since finding the actual conference room is the hardest part, here’s a handy map.
When You Arrive: There are sometimes prior meetings in the room that run until 6:30 so if other people are waiting outside the door, just ask to make sure you’re entering the correct meeting. To your left there will be a table with a sign up sheet, agendas as well as the Speaker & Comment cards. If you want to speak, make sure you give your card to one of the board members before the meeting starts so they know how many people to allot time for at the end of the meeting.
Where to Sit: Visitors are welcome to sit around the table with the board members, however, if there’s a large group, you can simply grab one of the chairs set behind the board table.
The Meeting: Here’s a sample agenda to give you an idea of the flow of the meetings and topics discussed. The guest/public comment period is at the very end of the meeting and each person is limited to two minutes.
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 Concerned Parents are definitely submitting their comments,) I always submit a general statement of support, such as:
My name is Susanne Kerns and I am one of the 800 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.
Be Aware: 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 topcs 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 Concerned Parents and let the SHAC board know that we support their inclusion initiatives.
If you read my post about an unusual discussion I had with a representative from the Concerned Parents group, please note that this was not DURING the meeting, rather she reached out to me after the meeting. Your 2 minutes are YOURS. There is not a response period or an opportunity for the CPs to start a debate. (Note: that post is on my personal blog, not the Informed Parents of Austin blog.)
Since that discussion, I have done my best to not engage with any CPs as I’m following 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.