Does AISD’s #NoPlaceForHate Have Limits?

Does AISD’s #NoPlaceForHate Have Limits?

I just spent the weekend filled with the wonderful energy from Austin Pride’s 2018 Pride Weekend. My daughter and I marched along with hundreds of other AISD students, parents and faculty behind an AISD marching band, all of us waving AISD Pride Flags and celebrating AISD’s commitment to make Austin schools a safe, #NoPlaceForHate environment for LGBTQ students, families and staff.

Even Superintendent Cruz retweeted my message thanking AISD for supporting and protecting LGBTQ students. (Which may or may not mean that he didn’t realize that I’m the one that wrote this letter of frustration over AISD’s delay in rolling out new comprehensive human sexuality curriculum that is inclusive of LGBTQ students’ needs.)

But then today, I saw this article from the Austin Chronicle in my news feed.

The main point: “The Austin Independent School District will begin renting its Performing Arts Cen­ter this month to a church with explicitly anti-LGBTQ views.”

The church in question is the Celebration Church, which has such detailed beliefs on marriage and sexuality that they had to dedicate an entire separate document to list them vs just posting them in the beliefs section of their website.

So, here are my questions for AISD:

1. Does your #NoPlaceForHate policy for schools and AISD facilities only apply to weekdays or do weekends count too? Despite the final paragraph of the Celebration Church’s Marriage and Sexuality Rules, everything highlighted in yellow is completely against AISD’s #NoPlaceForHate policy.

2. I realize that there are public space and freedom of speech arguments to be made, but my understanding of AISD’s policy is that “use of school facilities shall not be allowed when such use would be detrimental to the goals and objectives of the District as identified in District policy….”

In reviewing the values outlined in the AISD Strategic Plan, it seems that Celebration Church’s values are detrimental to the objectives AISD has outlined in their 5-year plan.  (Full plan can be viewed here.)

3. Celebration Church’s own Marriage and Sexuality rules explicitly state that: “it is imperative that all persons employed by the church in any capacity, or who serve as volunteers, as well as anyone who commits to the membership/partnership agreement of the church should abide by and agree to this Policy on Marriage and Sexuality and conduct themselves accordingly.”

By entering an agreement with this church either 1) AISD agrees to abide and agree to this Policy on Marriage and sexuality, or 2) Celebration Church is compromising their own beliefs to enter a partnership with an organization which has publicly committed to support (and who has even marched to support) LGBTQ students, families and staff.

4. Are the values of the other churches that rent space from AISD in line with AISD’s goals and objectives?

I’m hopeful that AISD leadership will adhere to the same values that they expect out of their students and reevaluate this partnership with a church that would be sent to the principal’s office for being a bully if they went to one of their schools.

Please, AISD, show us that your commitment to your LGBTQ students isn’t just limited to some parade flags.

Parents, allies and Austin neighbors – please let AISD know that you believe that the beliefs of the groups they partner with should be aligned with the beliefs of AISD.

Contact:

Dr. Cruz: superintendent@austinisd.org

Board of Trustees: trustees@austinisd.org

Social & Emotional Learning: Dr. Goodnow: lisa.goodnow@austinisd.org

School Health Advisory Council: tracy.spinner@austinisd.org & viviansballard@gmail.com

Director of Academics: kathy.ryan@austinisd.org

 

Your Story Is Important – Let’s Share It.

Your Story Is Important – Let’s Share It.

I’m a big believer in using information to help transform fear into understanding.

And when it comes down to it, every person who is fighting against inclusion policies for LGBTQ students in Austin schools is basing their arguments on fear.

  • Fear based in their own ignorance about what it means to be LGBTQ.
  • Fear from the misconception that LGBTQ rights and equality will somehow cause their children to become LGBTQ.
  • Fear that they can’t explain LGBTQ topics to their kids without getting into nitty-gritty sex details. (FYI – My children have been to many hetero-weddings where we never had to have a discussion about the sex lives of the couple getting married.)

We have the opportunity to raise a generation of kids who will never even think twice about whether their LGBTQ friends are “normal” or “different” simply because they’ve never been taught to see them differently.

That’s why it’s more important than ever that schools embrace LGBTQ inclusion policies and that we help inform the parents who are fighting these policies so they can get past their fears and begin to understand.

One of the best ways to help people understand is through personal stories, and I’m hopeful that you will be willing to share your story here so we can begin to build that bridge from fear to understanding.

  • The story of how the love an acceptance of someone in your life helped you embrace being LGBTQ.
  • The story of how living in an unwelcoming environment meant you had to hide your true self.
  • The story of how inclusive policies at your school impacted your self-esteem and ability to succeed.
  • The story of how an unwelcoming school affected your self-esteem and ability to succeed.
  • The story of growing up with an LGBTQ parent(s).
  • The story of having a friend, relative or teacher who is LGBTQ.
  • The story of how your school’s sex-ed curriculum either included or excluded topics that addressed your questions and needs.
  • The story of meeting your first crush, true love, partner or spouse.

It can be short or long. Funny or serious. Young or old. Every story is important. YOUR story is important and I would be honored to help you share it here. You can do it completely anonymously or un-anonymously (I know that’s not a word.)  🙂 Just be sure to let me know your preference.  Also please note if you are in the Austin Independent School District and would be willing to let me read excerpts from your story at school board meetings, etc.

Email your story to informedparentsofaustin@gmail.com.

I look forward to hearing from you and look forward to building understanding in our community.

Sign up here for future updates.

Share Your Story

Dear Dr. Cruz – Austin Students Need Comprehensive, Medically Accurate Sex Ed NOW

Dear Dr. Cruz – Austin Students Need Comprehensive, Medically Accurate Sex Ed NOW

Dear Dr. Cruz,

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.

During those public comment periods I have also listened to the comments from “Concerned Parents of Austin” (CPA) attendees who oppose comprehensive sex-ed and LGBTQ inclusion programs.

The CPA group is affiliated of Mass Resistance Texas, an extremist anti-LGBTQ group which tries to brand itself as “pro-family.” The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Mass Resistance Texas as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.  They have spent the past year fighting the bathroom bill, working to remove Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools Program from AISD schools, and protesting libraries that carry books with even the slightest reference to LGBTQ topics. Their representatives have also made it their mission to fight LGBTQ inclusion programs in Texas schools.

The materials that the Concerned Parents group have distributed at the SHAC meetings I have attended come from three extremist groups.

  • Family Watch International (FWI): The Southern Poverty Law Center has also labeled FWI as an extremist/hate group: “Family Watch International works within the United Nations and with countries around the world to further anti-LGBT and anti-choice stances. Founder Sharon Slater promotes anti-LGBT pseudoscience that includes the falsehood that homosexuality is a mental disorder derived from childhood trauma, and that so-called “conversion therapy” can effectively eliminate same-sex attraction.”
  • The Medical Institute: The CPA also handed out brochures intended to “educate” kids about why condoms don’t work, which were developed by Medical Institute, based in Austin, TX. According to an article in The Nation, “The newly renamed Medical Institute (formerly known as the Medical Institute of Sexual Health), for example, touts itself as being founded to confront the global epidemics of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections…Although this may sound innocuous, the Medical Institute is a hard-core abstinence-only organization. Its advisory board reads like a Who’s Who of purity pushers. Even W. David Hager–a former Bush appointee to the FDA’s advisory board on reproductive health, who suggested prayer as a cure for PMS and whose ex-wife alleged in The Nation that he had repeatedly raped her [“Dr. Hager’s Family Values,” May 30, 2005]–is listed.”  You can find additional information about The Medical Institute’s spread of misinformation in this article from Slate.com.
  • The Institute for Research and Evaluation: CPA also quote extensively from “The Institute for Research and Evaluation” a group which is dedicated to removing comprehensive sex-ed programs in favor of abstinence only programs. One of their clients is LifeGuard, an Austin based “sex-education” provider.

According to your Strategic Plan for 2015-2020, the top three AISD values are:

  • Whole Child, Every Child
  • Physical, social, and emotional health, and safety
  • Equity, diversity, and inclusion

The Concerned Parents group and any group with the mission of promoting the idea that gender is binary and that LGBTQ students, parents and staff are unnatural and immoral are completely at odds with these values. Human sexuality curriculum that does not cover the unique needs and issues of LGBTQ students further isolates these students, putting them at even higher risk for low attendance and higher risk for suicide. It also results in another generation of cisgender students who lack awareness and understanding for their LGBTQ classmates.

In addition to the LGBTQ students who will suffer from this one-year delay in receiving medically accurate, comprehensive human sexuality instruction, all AISD students are at risk of and additional year of increased rates of sexual abuse, not understanding their own power of consent, or taking part in unsafe sexual activity which results in a sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy.

I understand that you have to balance the input of parents with the needs of students, but I’m also confident that you will come out of this one-year comment period knowing the same thing you already know: there is a group of vocal people who believe that giving students the tools and language to understand their own bodies will damage their innocence. There are also groups of people who believe those who are LGBTQ are immoral or unnatural. A one-year delay will not change either of these things. Collecting the input from these groups over the course of the next year will not give you any information you do not already have.

Parents like me look to AISD leadership and AISD committees like the SHAC board to compile all of the most recent and accurate research to help guide curriculum decisions that benefit the entire AISD student body. Parental input is important, but a vocal minority should not supersede the advice from the subject-matter experts who understand the importance of human sexuality education.

I am disappointed that in this instance, AISD leadership did not lead from a place of those first three values of your mission, especially around students’ health and safety as well as diversity and inclusion.

 

Sincerely,

Susanne Kerns

Informed Parents of Austin

Note: I started writing this letter to AISD’s District Superintendent, Dr. Cruz after receiving a letter from Dr. Goodnow, Associate Superintendent of Academics and Social & Emotional Learning for AISD, informing me that AISD will be delaying the implementation of its new, comprehensive, human sexuality curriculum by a year.  (Letter shown below.)

I’m sharing it here because I want to ensure that in addition to Dr. Cruz, other parents are also aware of the campaign of misinformation and hate around this topic. Although there are parents and teachers with legitimate questions about AISD’s proposed human sexuality curriculum, there is also a larger, organized, very vocal group, (many of whom do not even live in Austin,) who are working hard to ensure that students do not have access to scientifically accurate information about their bodies, their health or their sexuality, especially if those students are LGBTQ.

If you would like to show your support for comprehensive human sexuality education and programs that support the needs of LGBTQ students and families, you can contact:

Dr. Cruz: superintendent@austinisd.org

Social & Emotional Learning: Dr. Goodnow: lisa.goodnow@austinisd.org

School Health Advisory Council: tracy.spinner@austinisd.org & viviansballard@gmail.com

Director of Academics: kathy.ryan@austinisd.org

Board of Trustees: trustees@austinisd.org

Sign This Petition to Show Your Support for Comprehensive Sex-Ed

Sign This Petition to Show Your Support for Comprehensive Sex-Ed

Austin Independent School District (AISD) Parents:

AISD is considering a comprehensive sexual health education curriculum for K-8th grade students. To show your support, please sign this petition which will be delivered on behalf of The Informed Parents of Austin to the Austin ISD School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) and the Board of Trustees.

There are many reasons to support age-appropriate, science-based, comprehensive sexuality education in your child’s school – here are just a couple:

Comprehensive sex education keeps kids safe and healthy. Children and teens make healthier choices and have healthier relationships when they receive fact-based sex education at school.  In fact, teens who receive comprehensive sexual health education are more likely to wait longer to become sexually active and make safer lifelong sexual decisions. With honest and factual information, students of all ages have the tools they need to take charge of their health and focus on their future goals.

Comprehensive sex education is recommended by experts. The American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Institute of Medicine, and Society for Adolescent Medicine all support comprehensive sex education for all children beginning in elementary school.

Basic information about the new AISD program:

  • The program AISD is considering is science-based and appropriate for students’ age and developmental stage.
  • The elementary curriculum includes 5 lessons per year from Kindergarten thru 5th grade.
    • Students will learn about basic body parts, appropriate boundaries, healthy friendships.
  • The middle school curriculum includes 10 lessons per year in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade.
    • Students learn about healthy relationships, reproductive systems and processes, abstinence, contraception, and sexually transmitted diseases.
  • By state law, parents/parenting adults will be able to opt their child out of any lesson and no child will be required to participate.

Your support is needed to get this curriculum approved and implemented in classrooms district-wide. School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) will vote to adopt the curriculum and it will then be approved by the AISD Board of Trustees.

Please sign and share with other parents with children in elementary or middle school in AISD.  Please only sign if you currently have a student enrolled in AISD. Thank you.

Click here to link to the petition.

 

It’s Time For You to Go to a SHAC Meeting

It’s Time For You to Go to a SHAC Meeting

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.

Austin Independent School District
SHAC General Info
Sign Up to be a SHAC Board Member

Lake Travis Independent School District
SHAC General Info
Sign Up to be a SHAC Board Member by contacting your school’s principal or contacting Kathleen Hassenfratz at 512-533-6041 or at hassenfratzk@ltisdschools.org

Leander Independent School District
SHAC General Info
Sign Up to be a SHAC Board Member by contacting Sr. Executive Director of Student Services Brad Mansfield at brad.mansfield@leanderisd.org.

Round Rock Independent School District
SHAC General Info
Sign Up to be a SHAC Board Member

Eanes Independent School District
SHAC General Info
Sign Up to be a SHAC Board Member by contacting Linda Rawlings, Director of Student Support Services, (512) 732-9020 or .

Pflugerville Independent School District
SHAC General Info
Sign Up to be a SHAC Board Member by using this general contact form for the district.

DelValle Independent School District
SHAC General Info
Sign Up to be a SHAC Board Member by contacting Health Services at 512-386-3073

Manor Independent School District
SHAC General Info
Sign Up to be a SHAC Board Member by contacting Student and Family Support Services Director Becky Lott at (512) 278-4462 rebecca.lott@manorisd.net or  Health Services Coordinator Lynda Townsend at (512) 278-4093 lynda.townsend@manorisd.net

Hays Independent School District
SHAC General Info
Sign Up to be a SHAC Board Member

 

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.

 

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How to Attend An AISD SHAC Meeting

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.

Note: Every meeting I have attended, there have been boxed meals available on the table for board members and guests. You are welcome to grab one.

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.

Here’s a photo of the basic seating layout at SHAC meetings. It’s a very casual, welcoming environment. Photo credit: AISD SHAC Facebook Page

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.

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