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Concern in Park City over Welcoming Schools seems overblown

If you haven’t kept up on the latest uproar in Park City, let me introduce you to Welcoming Schools. Welcoming Schools is a professional development course for teachers. It focuses on bullying.

A group of Trailside elementary parents don’t like this program for a variety of reasons. Some have stated that it appears to focus on gender-based bullying (i.e., LGBTQ, transgender, etc.) and not other types of bullying. Some take that a step further and equate this program with teaching sex education. They argue that this requires parental consent in Utah. Some feel the program is too controversial, and the school district should find another plan. There are likely other individual concerns, as well. The outcome of these fears is a cease and desist letter from a law firm telling the School District to stop the Welcoming Schools program.

Those supporting the Welcoming Schools program argue that this training is purely for teachers and that it doesn’t directly impact students. They argue that Park City Schools are required to have an anti-bullying program, so why not this one? They say that there are all types of bullying, including gender and LGBTQ bullying, and teachers need tools to handle this in their classrooms.

On Tuesday evening, a group of people in support of Welcoming Schools held a meeting at the Visitor’s Center to dispell the myths of the program, answer questions, and provide an opportunity for dialog. Around seventy-five people attended the meeting, representing many sides of the issue. Despite the divisiveness of the issue, it was a very adult conversation devoid of yelling or screaming.

While the crowd appeared mostly in support of Welcoming Schools, questions were brought up. Questions included … “To avoid a law-suit, shouldn’t we just find another program?” “What about bullying of politically-conservative students — not because they are gay, but because they are pro-Trump?”Others were concerned with the group backing the program, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, and said we should be looking for a different program that everyone can get behind.”

Tuesday’s community gathering was a civilized discussion mainly due to the efforts of the meeting’s organizer Lara Valdes-Postula and the moderator Mary Christa Smith. They created an environment where all views could be shared in a respectful environment. Yet, the entire discussion around this issue has not been civilized. Emails were sent by a group called Stop Welcoming Schools to members of the Trailside Elementary School community that called the program an indoctrination in the LGBTQ community and a sexual education class. The principal of Trailside, Carolyn Synan, has been accused of peddling falsehoods and having an insidious mission. The lawyers for Stop Welcoming Schools say that “Welcoming Schools is a program designed to change the way students and teachers think.”

UMM, isn’t that the purpose of schools? To learn? Yes, students may want to change the way they think. They may decide they want to be more compassionate and inclusive.

So, what do we at the Park Rag think? Like most things substantial, it’s a complicated issue. You have parental concerns over what is taught to their children versus a need to teach children about inclusion so they are better human beings.

The Park Rag often takes a stance against many actions by our school district, Summit County, and Park City. But this isn’t one of those times. I personally support the efforts of Park City Schools to use a tool like Welcoming Schools.

Having two small children in elementary school in Park City, I have seen more than I ever expected. Teachers need every tool at their disposal to work with our kids and their diverse set of needs. If Welcoming Schools provides teachers with approaches to answering questions about diversity, gender, and other issues, that’s a win. If it provides tools to teach children about these topics, so children become more accepting, then that’s even better.

That said, I understand how some people could get worried over the marketing that Welcoming Schools uses and what that means about the program. If you peruse the Welcoming Schools website, the home page is very pro-LGBTQ based. Again, I don’t personally care. You love who you love. You are who you are. In the immortal words of XTC, “any kind of love is alright.” So, the home page fits into my belief system.

However, it doesn’t speak to everyone. Some people don’t believe their children should be exposed to transgender, LGBTQ, or other “alternative” messages. I disagree, but I understand that some feel that way. People are different.

What I would say to concerned parents is that I generally understand what you are concerned with. However, first, we should acknowledge that this is professional development for teachers. This program gives teachers ideas and techniques on how to deal with gender-based (and other) items as they arise. If a kid is being bullied because he or she has two moms or two dads at home, what does a teacher say? How do they handle it? This provides some tools.

I could also see some parents concerned with the sample lesson plans provided by Welcoming Schools. There are lesson plans like Jacob’s New Dress: Understanding Gender Expression and I Am Jazz: Understanding Transgender Children. If some parents read only the titles of the plans, they may be concerned. However, when I delve into the details of these lesson plans, they are generally about understanding and embracing differences. It’s not some hidden agenda to change your kid. It’s a program designed to celebrate who our children are and respect others for who they are.

Overall it seems Welcoming Schools provides teachers with tools. Tools can be used for both good and bad. It’s the teacher that makes the difference, just like any craftsperson. I have faith in our teachers that they are going to teach our kids to be accepting and tolerant. What is wrong with that? If a teacher strays too far, then a parent can decide to bring out the torches and pitchforks.

I also understand the argument that this program focuses on gender issues and that many other types of bullying need to be addressed. I completely agree with that. If this is the sole anti-bullying training in the district, it’s not doing enough for our kids.

In the last couple of months, I have seen one family have to move their child from Park City public schools because of fake stories about their kid. In another case, a child’s thumb was almost broken by someone acting like a bully on the playground. The Welcoming Schools curriculum would do little to address either of these.

That said, Welcoming Schools, or something similar, should be part of the arrows in the quiver to stop bullying. Do we need to do more than Welcoming Schools? Of course. This program is part of the solution but we need more. Our kids should be given every chance to learn tolerance, compassion, and kindness.

Yes, bullying will happen. Unfortunately, it seems to be part of human nature. We need to give teachers the tools to help our kids with issues like these. We shouldn’t stop a program like Welcoming Schools that addresses at least part of our needs. We should find a way to build on top of it to meet as many children’s needs as possible .

If you’d like to watch the community meeting about the subject, please see below.

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