Schools look to expand LGBTQ inclusiveness

  • Easthampton High School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

@kate_ashworth
Published: 12/19/2017 11:27:50 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Easthampton school officials are taking steps this fall to expand inclusiveness for the LGBTQ community.

The initiatives include new options for health and sex education for LGBTQ students at the high school and middle school levels; expanding the core curriculum to include LGBTQ literature and historical figures; rethinking bathroom policies; and exploring the addition of a self-defense after-school program tailored to minority groups.

Throughout the academic year, the Easthampton school district has been implementing a plan to promote diversity, prevent bias-related incidents and ensure discipline policies are carried out equally. The work on transforming school climate began this past spring and became a high priority after a critical report from the state attorney general’s office found discipline disparities and issues with how bias-related incidents were handled by the administration.

Last month, around seven students from Easthampton High School’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) raised concerns during a Policy Subcommittee meeting of the School Committee. They pointed out the need for queer content in the sex education curriculum at both White Brook Middle School and EHS.

Julie Ann Levin, curriculum director for the Easthampton Public Schools, said that she’s found that comprehensive health education textbooks lack topics on gender identity or LGBTQ topics.

“They’re all very heteronormative,” she said.

Both the high school and GSA have gained media attention in the past week. Along with other changes in the school handbook focused on civil rights and inclusiveness, the term “freshman” was changed to the gender-neutral term “first year students.” The changes were announced at an assembly last week. The name change drew criticism on social media. In an update emailed to parents and students on Tuesday, Superintendent Nancy Follansbee wrote that many news reports incorrectly identified the GSA as the sole student group requesting the name change.

At the Policy Subcommittee meeting, students also advocated for more LGBTQ content in the core curriculum, Levin said, such as information about Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 and was assassinated about a year later.

To provide that content, Levin said she’s gathering supplemental curriculum materials, such as lessons from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center which provides free resources to educators to promote social justice and anti-bias.

Levin said she’ll also reach out to teachers about adding LGBTQ content into their lessons.

It’s also important to add information about LGBTQ relationships and mental health to health and sex education lessons, Levin said, because, today, parents who are openly gay or transgender are more common. Levin said she plans to have a therapist talk to students about gender and sexual identities.

“That conversation I have not seen in a published text,” Levin said.

Levin plans to have LGBTQ curriculum material for the ninth-grade wellness class this year, and she’s working on gathering material for the middle school level.

To add diversity to classroom libraries, the district recently sent a flyer to Easthampton parents with a list of books the district would like to receive as gifts this holiday season. The list includes “Branded by the Pink Triangle,” by Ken Setterington, about homosexuals in Nazi Germany, as well as other books by Asian, American Indian and Latino authors.

Another issue raised by GSA students at the November meeting was the fact that unisex bathrooms require a key. The students requested the bathrooms be converted to public bathrooms on all floors, the meeting’s minutes state. Follansbee will follow up with the maintenance director, according to the minutes. 

Students also said they are interested in a self-defense after-school program particularly tailored to minority groups, according to meeting minutes.

One thing the students said that struck School Committee member Marissa Carrere was that school is a safe space for LGBTQ students. Students might overhear comments from others in classrooms or hallways, but on school grounds, there’s a lot of support available from staff, she said.

“In some cases, school was a safer place than home,” Carrere said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

© 2019 Daily Hampshire Gazette
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy