Usually this space is reserved for issues of a district-wide nature. But in this present time, when so many of us question the policies and leadership we have in education at the top, from Betsy DeVos to Mike Morath to our local school board, it is important to remember that so much of what affects our kids is determined in small moves by the local leaders right on their campuses. Sometimes those issues are small and easy to ignore. Sometimes they're big, but you don't want to make waves where your children go to school. Sometimes, you might not even know.
Here's one such example.
A couple of weeks ago, my kids' school hosted a Father-Daughter Dance celebrating Valentine's Day and was used as a fundraiser for middle school students. Here's the invitation that went out in the parent communication folders of female students...
We have two young students at this school. One son and one daughter. Our daughter was excited about the event and enthusiastically asked if we could go when it came up at the dinner table. Our son wanted to go to and was disappointed that he wasn't invited. We had a tough conversation that night with our son about how there would be other, better opportunities in the future and with our daughter about why we wouldn't be going.
After mulling it over for many days, my wife and I decided we couldn't stay silent, and we sent the following letter to the school principal outlining our concerns and expectation for improvement in the future.
Dear Dr. Pollock:
We are writing to express concerns with the Father-Daughter Valentine’s Day Dance that was held at Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet School (GOMM) on February 14, 2017 as well as with what we understand is an upcoming Mother-Son event scheduled for later this school year.
Our foremost concern is the exclusion of students based on gender. By definition and by invitation, boys were not able to attend the school’s Valentine’s Day Dance and girls will not be included in the subsequent event in May. Additionally, we believe the style of the events both in advertisement and content are discriminatory to families that do not conform to a certain expectation.
Our family includes one male and one female student. After an invitation to the Father-Daughter Valentine’s Day Dance was sent home with our daughter but not our son, the dance became a significant topic of discussion in our household. Our son loves to dance, and he was disappointed to learn that he wasn’t able to attend what appeared to be the school’s Valentine’s Day event. During these discussions, it was difficult to explain why a GOMM event would exclude half of its students and do so based on gender.
In addition to simply excluding students like our son, we are also concerned that the event excluded others we value on campus.
What did this invitation say to students who do not have fathers? What did it say to students who have two mothers? Even if some families have the requisite gender combinations of parents and children, why must daughters dance with fathers and sons with mothers? Why could families not dance and celebrate with whomever they want? With such a heteronormative tone, what were families with gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender family members meant to feel? What were students potentially questioning their sexuality hearing and feeling from their school environment?
Ultimately, if your family has the wrong combination of members or doesn’t conform to certain gender roles, you are excluded at these GOMM events. This exclusion is hard to reconcile in a public school setting, particularly one such as ours where our district and campus have committed to be free from discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, religion and other manner of diversity.
This example of exclusion and bias is not what we want for our kids.
Furthermore, such a practice appears to be in conflict with Garden Oaks’ Human Rights Campaign Welcoming Schools Seal of Excellence. One of the primary goals of the Welcoming Schools Campaign is to help schools “embrace family diversity.” This dance and its advertising was contrary to that objective.
Welcoming Schools campuses are intended to have a Leadership Team. Was this team consulted about this dance? Was the Parent Teacher Organization? If so, what was their response? If not, why?
We saw many beautiful pictures of our friends’ daughters and their dads on social media. It appeared all who attended had a wonderful time. We do not wish to take away the great experiences they had, but we ask why these experiences couldn’t be made available to all.
We hope, as our campus leader, you will work to ensure that future activities are inclusive and non-discriminatory. We hope that GOMM will not make the same mistakes later this year, and if the Valentine’s Day event is held again next year, we hope that it is transformed into an event families of all backgrounds and diversity are welcome to attend. If so, our family would be proud to participate.
We know this school can do better. We appreciate your attention to our concerns and look forward to you leadership regarding these issues in the future.
We haven't received a direct response yet, but we noticed this short message in the weekly newsletter from the principal.
Here's the survey that it links to...
Needless to say, we find this a disappointing response. No amount of popular support among a community justifies the discrimination or exclusion of other groups -- no matter their size. Our district has rules put in place by our elected school board that are there for the benefit and protection of all students. Neither principals nor a group of parents on a campus are allowed to ignore them.
Furthermore, we all need to stay vigilant for the every day discrimination that occurs right in front of us. The kind that is easy to think is wrong but ignore.
Bad policies don't always come in the form of Executive Orders or state law. Sometimes they're the result of the combination of compounding good intentions, bad decisions, ignorance and silence.
It's up to each one of us to call it out and demand change when we see it.