The Park City Board of Education received a half dozen comments from the public during their meeting Tuesday. One person expressed concerns about the Welcoming Schools anti-bullying teacher training, while others highlighted issues over what they consider pornographic passages in a book used in the high school English curriculum.
The Park City community remains divided on the Welcoming Schools Teacher Training program used at Trailside Elementary School. It’s a state-endorsed program to help teachers deal appropriately with bullying, especially students who identify as – or live in households that are - non-traditional.
The school district has received a cease and desist letter from a Salt Lake City law firm, who have partnered with a group of anonymous parents.
Editorials and social media postings about the teacher training have caused discord in the community. Last month, a group of parents who favor the program hosted a heavily attended public meeting. The purpose was to clarify the facts about the program and to bring all opinions into the discussion.
Resident Linda Lukenowski, who does not have children in the school system, said she wants the school board to consider programs that address all children who are bullied. She grilled the board on how the Welcoming Schools program was selected.
Lukenowski: “Okay, so the district did not choose Trailside implement this indoctrination program?”
Board President Andrew Caplan: “Indoctrination of what?”
Lukenowski: “Of first the school to offer the welcoming schools until you roll it out to the other schools?”
Board President Andrew Caplan told Lukenowski the board had no role in deciding to use the Welcoming Schools teacher training at Trailside. The principal and teachers selected the program from a list the State Board of Education approved for anti-bullying teacher training programs.
Lukenowski said the Welcoming Schools program only addresses one small minority of kids who are bullied. Caplan says it is inaccurate to suggest teachers and administrators only care about one group of kids.
“What we’re trying to do is create an environment that welcomes and accepts all students regardless of what their beliefs are any of that. It’s not accurate to say that there's one small minority group that we care about. It's just not true that's not what educators do. They don't come and pick and choose which kids they want to educate or which kids they care about. Teachers do this for children. Educators or administrators do this because they care about all children. It's incredibly inconsiderate and inaccurate to say that we care about one group of people and there’s some kind of you know prioritization there. It was due to specific feedback and specific bullying that took place and our teachers wanted tools to deal with that.”
Lukenowski wants the school board to consider other anti-bullying programs instead of the Welcoming Schools teacher training, along with addressing the causes of bullying.
“It’s heartbreaking what happens to these kids truly, and not just LGBTQ kids but all the other ones that I mentioned. I would like to see more programs that actually brings in mental health help, to the bullyers.”
In other comments, Diane Livingston, a parent of a 9th grader, addressed the board about the graphic content in a school-approved novel. She’s concerned the book “The Kite Runner” could cause students who have been sexually abused, further trauma, because of the child rape scene. She says there are several other approved novels that also have sexual and graphic material that violate criminal code.
“This law needs to be followed as books are approved, new books are approved via the novel adoption committee. We need to weed out precedent violators. We need to look at library books as we accept book fair books and as teacher form their individual libraries within their own classrooms. We, my friends and I, are here today to ask respectfully that you will consider this law and impress it to be applied all throughout the school district. Let's remember that 20% of our students will be sexually abused by the time they’re 18-years-old.”
Parent Tom Clardy told the board that a 2005 Department of Justice task force identified that pornography is not only defined as pornographic pictures. He read a graphic passage from an unidentified book, which he claimed to be part of the school district’s curriculum.
“Isn’t so much the first amendment part but it's about the fact that the obscene material doesn't need, not need to have pictorial content. It can be written text. They call them textual obscenities which is straight up child pornography images and child pornography textual obscenities. And so, I come here tonight unfortunately reading you curriculum that's on our list. This whole book is filled with it. And I would really imagine you all would be just as surprised as I was to actually see what’s in these books, because I hadn't read 'em.”
Links to the public input given in Tuesday’s school board meeting can be found on KPCW.org. The school board said they would take all public comments under consideration. http://video.pcschools.us/videos/video/10475/