Last week, the Orange County Board of Education addressed two questions: whether to honor Harvey Milk and whether to investigate Board Member Robert Hammond's conduct, in particular with regard to his communications while in official board member capacity about LGBTQ people.
The Board should take a strong stand against discriminatory speech to demonstrate their commitment to the mission of public education: to provide safe and inclusive schools for all children.
A school board member is a leader for schools, for public education in general.
When we allow Board members to say derogatory and discriminatory things to anyone in their capacity as an OCDE Board member, we are sanctioning broader bias-based bullying that has no place at work or schools.
How can we expect school professionals to intervene on behalf of children when the leadership that represents county schools conducts itself in a biased, discriminatory manner?
School professionals need to understand how important developing students' self worth is to their self efficacy in school, as well as their overall growth, development and well-being. OCDE Board members should act from this knowledge at all times. It is our obligation to protect all children at school, so they may thrive. When children don't feel safe or accepted at school for who they are, everything is impacted: their health, their school attendance, their relationships with others, their happiness.
Compared with students harassed for other reasons, students who report being harassed for their race, religion, ability, perceived sexual orientation, or gender:
- are twice as likely to have their personal belongings stolen or deliberately damaged at school;
- are more likely to report being depressed and attempting suicide;
- are more likely to skip school and have lower grades; and
- are up to 4 times as likely to have been threatened with a weapon at school. (Russell, 2012, American Journal of Public Health)
Words do hurt people, and the OCDE Board of Education should take a strong stand about what it means to be a leader for Orange County schools.
Investigating discriminatory acts of a Board member is a good step.
Offering on-going professional development for school professionals about the impacts of bias-based bullying, and how to implement anti-discrimination laws that support LGBTQ youth already on the books in California should be an OCDE top priority.
As a teacher educator at Cal State Fullerton committed to just, equitable and inclusive education, I call on the OCDE Board to do the right thing: set a tone of inclusion, that includes non-tolerance for bigotry and discrimination. Take a stand for LGBTQ children and families in Orange County, who need your leadership to make Orange County schools safe and welcoming for all children.
Sharon Chappell, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Elementary and Bilingual Education. Interim Director, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union Center for Creativity and Critical Thinking
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org