Community Divided On the Use Of Anti-bullying Teacher Training

Oct 31, 2019

Credit Carolyn Murray / KPCW Radio

The dispute over an anti-bullying teacher training program being used at Trailside Elementary School was addressed in a public meeting on Tuesday. A handful of parents who support the adoption of the program held the forum hoping to dispel misconceptions and offer a platform for people to voice their opinions.

There were 100 or more people at the public forum representing both sides of the controversial Welcoming Schools Anti-Bullying program. Park City board of Education President Andrew Caplan spoke first saying he and all the school board members are interested in hearing from the public. He reiterated the board’s commitment to the anti-bullying teacher training program now being used in Trailside Elementary School.

Parent Allison Cook says she was appreciative of the way the meeting was conducted. She remains un-swayed in her opposition of the Welcoming Schools teacher training because she feels it is focused solely on advocating for LGBTQ equality, that it caters to this group only and is not inclusive or centrist. She says everyone in the room agreed that anti bullying practices should be adopted.

The Pacific Justice Institute https://www.pacificjustice.org/ along with un-named parents is identified as one of the parties in the cease and desist letter sent to the school district threatening legal action if the Welcoming Schools training is not abandoned by the school district. According to their website, the Welcoming Schools Program  http://www.welcomingschools.org/curriculum was written and is supported by the Human Rights Coalition. Cook thinks this is part of the problem.

“People have described this as a Republican verses Democrat issue. And I think we can all agree that anti-bullying crosses party lines. The problem is that the organizations involved in the process are polarizing.”Cook says neither she nor her children have had personal experience with Welcoming Schools. She is opposed to using the program based on the stated mission on their website and their affiliation with the Human Rights Coalition. The links to both websites can be found on KPCW.

“I think a lot of people have issue with the term embrace because there is a difference between tolerance and acceptance because asking people to accept your lifestyle choices may be contrary to their beliefs.”Another parent Jennifer Brinton, who attended the meeting, says her impression is the community unanimously supports anti-bullying. She would like the district to pick a program that    that is not so polarizing. She believes the HRC has an agenda of promoting LGBTQ issues above everything else.  Her impression is the school board has the notion there is wide-spread support of the Welcoming Schools program and she doesn’t believe that is the case.

“Long vocal group that is against the Welcoming Schools Program. Is it a little disappointing that no one was able to attend the meeting who could speak on behalf of the district or the Trailside Administration?  And I understand because of the pending lawsuits they couldn’t be there. But that’s still disappointing. I also did wish that Andrew Caplan had spoken longer and had been open to answering questions.”

Life-long resident Michael Spencer is a concerned parent with one child in Ecker Hill Middle School and one at Parley’s Park Elementary School. He thinks if schools can teach kindness, politics shouldn’t matter.

“What this program is on face value is strictly just teaching good human principles. Shouldn’t have to do with conservative or liberal or gay or anything. It’s strictly teaching good human principles about how we need to treat each other.”

Spencer says many families and communities shun LGBTQ people and he says with the high rate of suicide in Utah, the entire community should be supportive of all efforts to address bullying. He says he doesn’t understand the opposition’s concerns but says he may have to dig deeper into their issues.   “But I’m just looking at it as strictly what is the curriculum for the teacher. And, it seems pretty straight forward. You know it’s not trying to be guided in one direction of the other.  People are afraid of the LGBTQ community. You know, they’re being shunned by their family and community and they have no place to go. You know, believe in it or not, the last think you want to see is a child taking their own life because of being bullied, whether it is an LGBTQ thing or something else.”

Mary Christa Smith from Communities that Care moderated the meeting encouraging respectful listening including not interrupting while someone is speaking, and not clapping or showing support of one person’s comments over another.

“All the emotion and hype behind it, I think it went extraordinarily well. And I think it’s up to the school district how they want to address the questions they raised at the meeting and how they want to proceed from here.”

Smith declined to give her opinion on either side of the issue. She says the questions and issues were collected by a scribe who will deliver them to the school district and board of education. Superintendent Jill Gildea did not attend the meeting and through the district’s communication director, she declined to comment on this story.