William S. Hart Union High School District governing board member Joe Messina addressed the elephant in the room right away at Wednesday’s regular meeting held in the Hart High School auditorium.
Before hearing from Wendy Wiles, an attorney with Atkinson, Anderson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, on what other districts have included in their parental notification policies and before any public comments were made on the topic, Messina, who represents Trustee Area No. 5, said that he wanted to hear from the community.
“I do appreciate you making the trip out here,” Messina said. “I also want to thank the many, many, many phone calls, emails, invitations to meet and hear from people on all sides of this issue, to discuss the issue with parents and students and others.”
Messina asked for community input, and he got it.
The governing board extended the public comment session on the topic to a maximum of three hours, of which almost every minute was used. During that session, there was a clear divide between those who were in favor of a potential policy and those who were against one, with charged reactions from both sides and a majority of the speakers calling for no further action to be taken on the issue.
Why people are against the policy
Multiple students walked to the front of the auditorium, some speaking for themselves and some for those who either weren’t able to attend or were afraid to speak publicly. Some spoke with fiery passion and some broke down in tears as they relayed their personal stories.
The main issue that the speakers said they had was that those students who were not yet ready to come out as LGBTQ in public, or to their parents, could suddenly be forced to do so.
A high school senior in the district, who declined to provide a name, said that she came out as queer in sixth grade. When other parents found out through their children, she said, her mom confronted her about being queer.
“I remember when she came into my bedroom to ask if I was bi,” the student said. “Eleven-year-old me denied it, terrified of how she’d react. I knew she was supportive, but there is an inherent fear in coming out because one can never be sure.”
The student said that she eventually came out to her mom two years later, calling the experience of coming out on her own terms “liberating.”
A person who said he was a teacher in the district, who is also a Gay-Straight Alliance club advisor and a parent of two queer students in the district — but did not provide his name — said that teachers are already mandated reporters, meaning “we have to report when a student is in danger.” He said that this is different from the policy that is being discussed because teachers must report to Social Services and not to parents directly.
“Our responsibility is not to parents who want to be informed,” the speaker said. “In fact, the parents are usually who we’re protecting the children from. Students often come out to us first because we’re safe.”
Of the three hours of public comments, about two-thirds of the speakers were against the policy. Some questioned why the governing board would consider adopting a policy that, when implemented at other districts, has been met with lawsuits, as Wiles said in her presentation.
Multiple speakers requested resignations from any board members who were thinking of voting to approve such a policy.
Why people are for the policy
While students were arguing for their right to privacy, parents, and some others, spoke on their right to know about their children.
“Imagine your kid talking to their teachers, administrators, about what is going on, whether it’s gender, sexual preference, suicide, drugs, abuse,” said a former district student, who declined to provide a name. “As a parent, you have no idea about your own child’s issues. That would hurt as a parent.”
Manu Gregorian, who said he is a parent of four children, thanked the board for honoring veterans before getting more to the point.
“For me to have four beautiful daughters attending a school which could keep secrets from me is dangerous,” Gregorian said while holding a large American flag across his back. “All these parents here, whether it’s the parents’ side or the LGBTQ side, they’re all here because they love their children.”
Instead of helping to create a gap between children and parents, Gregorian asked the board why a program to help students connect with their parents is not being considered.
“You don’t keep no secrets when it comes to bullying or failing school or being tardy,” Gregorian said. “You tell the parents.”
Gregorian went on to say that he is aware that there are some abusive parents, but that those parents should be reported to Social Services.
Others said that parents are responsible for the actions of their children in all other aspects of life — crime, tattoos, etc. — and what happens at school should be no different.
“No parent should be kept in the dark about anything concerning their children,” said one speaker who did not provide a name. “It is a parent’s job to actually protect their children … This isn’t just about outing them for LGBT. This is about telling a parent everything that concerns their child.”
Why the board wants a discussion
In his board report at the beginning of the meeting, Messina scoffed at the idea of this policy being an “outing policy,” saying that “students who may have been dealing with all kinds of issues” need help. He said he spoke with multiple experts on teen mental health and other topics that were brought up in public comments and saw how many of those people simply want to help, if they know what’s happening.
“My focus was not on one issue. I wanted to know how these kids were coping with the day-to-day issues,” Messina said.
He went on to say that, in those talks, he found that “kids did better when parents knew and had the tools they needed to deal with the situation.”
Multiple audience members from the anti-policy side voiced their displeasure with that statement.
No action was taken at the meeting as it was an information-only item.
To view Wednesday’s meeting in its entirety, visit tinyurl.com/mpzx8j9n.