One school district at a time

I’m passing along a note that those of us who are members of Our Family Coalition, Northern California’s LGBT Family organization, received on Saturday. It’s huge news.

We’re painfully aware of the resistance to LGBT family- and gender- diversity in K-12 curricula elsewhere, even locally.  Alameda Unified School District is 10 short miles south of here, and in a whole different ball park.  (Last year I reported on their fight here; though the anti-bias anti-bullying curriculum was passed, it’s continued to encounter resistance, now at the law suit level.)  But those of us who know the Berkeley Unified School District would expect it to recognize and support this sort of social justice-minded, community-minded curriculum, what with its storied history as the first school district of its size in the nation to voluntarily desegregate, in 1968.  Forty years later, it’s still as committed.

Regardless of political pedigree, however, any school board can only be as forward-thinking as the community it sits in, and all of us with kids in the schools here owe a huge an incalculable debt of gratitude to those at OFC and in the school district whose long, hard work made this happen.

Much more to say about this in the future, but for the moment, just the good news:

Dear Families, Friends and Allies,

We have made history!

After four years of parents, educators and administrators collaborating to make their schools welcoming and inclusive for all families, the Berkeley School Board voted this week to adopt the vibrant Welcoming Schools Guide as official district curriculum.  Click here to watch video of the district staff presenting the curriculum (you can see my testimony here).

When my son Kobi was in first grade, he came home and told me that kids at school were using gay in a “bad” way.  Kobi is not alone. Children in elementary schools all over the country hear anti-gay slurs like “that’s so gay” and are subjected to bullying when they step outside of accepted gender norms.  As parents and caregivers, we know that this impacts all our kids.

If we are truly committed to addressing societal stigma against LGBT people and gaining full equality, we need to begin by making schools safe, accepting and inclusive. Our Family Coalition works with educators not only to end bullying, but to help them convey to their students that instead of being separate, LGBT people are a part of the community. We seek to shift fear and uncertainty to understanding and inclusion.

I want to commend the many Berkeley Unified principals, teachers, parents, school board members, union representatives and district administrators for their collaboration in, and commitment to this work.  In these past four years:

  • •  The school board passed a policy that supports family diversity curriculum.
  • •  In January, OFC teamed up with the teacher’s union and several PTAs to provide a staff development training for over 50 Berkeley teachers and after school staff from every public elementary school in the district.
  • •  The lessons have been tested in at least four of the eleven school sites.
  • •  And then finally, this week, they adopted the Welcoming Schools curriculum, with a commitment to train staff, purchase books, and most importantly, get the lessons into the classrooms.
  • The Welcoming Schools Guide is a fantastic resource offered by the Human Rights Campaign. Welcoming Schools is a new, comprehensive guide for administrators, educators, parents and guardians who want to strengthen their schools’ approach to family diversity, gender stereotyping and bullying. It is specifically designed for use in K-5 learning environments and is inclusive of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender families and individuals in the broader context of diversity.

    We savor the victory and at the same time know it is just one step on a long road. Please let me know if you want to do work like this in your school.

    Best Wishes,

    harvey milk

    Judy Appel

    Executive Director, Our Family Coalition

    One Response to One school district at a time

    1. Shereen March 17, 2010 at #

      This is great, LD! Thanks for passing on the link.

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