Public Comment: School Committee Failed To Protect LGBTQIA+ Students
The following public comment was made at the May 25 meeting of the Regional School Committee.
The climate at ARMS has been unsafe for LGBQTIA+ students and those who are questioning their gender or sexual identities over the past 2 years. There is currently a Title IX investigation underway and possibly members of our central office and middle school staff are being questioned. However institutions such as schools and districts are layered with levels of responsibilities that intersect, including the school committee. This committee, as a whole, failed to support students at ARMS by remaining silent.
In March When I heard about “pray the gay away” comments (as it was referred to by staff), I reached out to a few of you and only heard back from Ms Shaio who called Mr. Morris later that day. Perhaps others of you did something and received a response such as it’s a personnel issue which is not under the purview of the school committee. Or maybe you heard that because of contract language, a complaint and evidence was needed before action could be taken. Both responses indicate a “I can’t do anything” reaction. Given the volume of concerns spoken by staff and families describing the worries they had for students, the threats students endured, the fear students had coming to school, and that students might commit suicide; doing nothing was and is unethical.
At the April 25 meeting of the Regional School Committee, the Amherst representative Peter Demling said he was concerned that these reports were “unverified” and “fabricated.” Students and their parents were told that they were not believed and their trauma needed to be verified. imagine the impact of these words on students who were told to “kill themselves” from classmates or parents who “took to sleeping in their child’s room because they were not sure he could get through the night without harming himself.”
Through staff, district administration and school committee’s actions and non-actions, our students at ARMS learned and internalized that LGBTQIA+ students aren’t guaranteed a safe place to learn. Our BIPOC LGBTQIA+ students heard this message even louder. Also our white, cisgender, heterosexual, students learned and internalized that it’s okay to threaten, bully, harass, make discriminatory comments to students who don’t have the same identities as they do. While creating an environment where our LGBTQIA+ students feel unsafe, especially our BIPOC LGBTQIA+ students, we also taught our white, cisgender, heterosexual students that they can participate in creating this unsafe environment.
Maybe you didn’t do anything, maybe you did, but what the public heard from this committee was that staff and student concerns were fabricated or we heard silence. Our students and families need school committee representatives to support all students, question what is said, ask school educators if students are being harmed, listen, and do something. The school committee, as a whole, failed to create a safe school for our students and has failed to hold itself accountable for the harm it has caused.