Program Director From the Human Rights Campaign Discusses Controversial Anti-Bullyng Program

Dec 5, 2019

Credit Welcoming Schools

The state-sponsored, anti-bullying teacher training program Welcoming Schools has drawn controversy in the Park City community. An anonymous group of parents opposed to the program has partnered with the Pacific Justice Institute in a cease and desist letter, threatening legal action against the school district unless materials are removed and teacher training stops.

KPCW interviewed  the Senior Director of Programs with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the organization that developed the training.

The 40-year-old Human Rights Campaign is an organization promoting equal rights for LGBTQ people. It’s based in Washington, D.C. with operations in many states. The HRC Foundation is their non-profit division, which provides training, education and resources to help institutions become more inclusive and welcoming of the LGBTQ community. Ellen Kahn is the senior director of programs and partnerships, which is responsible for the development of the Welcoming Schools Training Program that’s geared toward elementary-aged children.

“We’re not bringing content into schools that is not appropriate for the developmental ages and stages of the children. We are working with adults who are having interactions with children every day, so that they can use language and terminology and use stories and lessons that help to cultivate an understanding of all kinds of diversity.

Kahn says they have received parental push back from some communities. She says it may be related to their Human Rights Campaign national efforts promoting legal rights for LGBTQ people across the country.  But she says once parents understand the content in the Welcoming Schools program, Kahn says they tend to understand the adult training doesn’t infringe on family values or religious beliefs.

“You know, how we are part of all families, part of all communities just helping folks have a deeper understanding of what inclusion looks like.

She says Welcoming Schools is very intentionally LGBTQ-inclusive, but it also takes on all kinds of bias-based bullying.

“That may be based on someone being gay or perceived as gay for example but also just as emphatically addresses behavior that might be biased based on race, religion, any physical ability or any other number of identified identities that the children have."

Kahn says parents can share beliefs at home, but when their children go to school, it’s critical they embrace the full diversity that exists in the classroom.

“Those schools include people who are part of the community or who have friends and family members who are part of the community. So, you can't sort of put your head in the sand and not address the fact that this is part of our diverse community. You're not taking a position on what religious beliefs are about LGBTQ folks or this isn't about you know, quote unquote, endorsing a particular orientation. It’s just helping people navigate from a young age.”

Some parents opposed to the use of the program have asked the Park City School District to replace it and use a less controversial teacher training program. They’ve objected to posters and other materials used in the Trailside Elementary School entryway. Kahn says most of the training programs for elementary-age kids are generic and don’t address how behavior affects others.

“Well, most of the trainings that are out there do not address at all gender stereotyping, do not address at all LGBTQ bias. They are, quote unquote, be nice to everyone. I've seen that in my own kid’s schools. But it doesn't really get into what do we mean by difference and diversity? What is bias based on? How does it show up? So, it does a disservice to children if we're not saying to them, this is why that word is so hurtful.”

Kahn says the program is endorsed by many professional education associations such as the National Education Association and the National Association of School Psychologists.

The Park City School District Attorney Joan Andrews responded to the cease and desist letter written by the attorney representing the anonymous group of parents who want to stop the Welcoming Schools program. She says in the letter the district is prepared to defend the use of the program, should the parents pursue litigation. Because Pacific Justice Institute is reportedly partnering with the Stop Welcoming Schools group, KPCW has reached out to their CEO for an interview. At the time of this report, they have not confirmed a date.

A link to Ellen Kahn’s full interview with KPCW’s Leslie Thatcher: