Resolution in Support of our LGBTQ+ Students, Employees, and Community Members

Support Jeffco Kids (and Jeffco PTA) were delighted and honored to be asked to stand with our LGBTQ+ educators and students to support their work for a Resolution in Support of our LGBTQ+ Students, Employees, and Community Members.  See the proposed Resolution at the end!

Here are the videos of that public comment at the June board meeting:

Here is the written speech from Casey Gardner:

Thank you Board Members and Dr. Glass for taking the time to hear these concerns, my name is Casey Gardner and I have been a mental health provider for 24 years, the last 15 in Jeffco. I am a member of the JCEA LGBTQ educator caucus. Our group has been working in partnership with district HR, legal, and student engagement offices for the past year with the district LGBTQ+ Task Force. Historically Jeffco Public Schools has been a leader when it comes to supporting LGBTQ students. We were the first school district in Colorado to pass a policy protecting transgender students and spent many years rolling out trainings. In recent years, this work has lapsed. While I have recently learned there is a good policy for supporting students, I had no idea this policy existed. I’ve worked in sped and GT in Jeffco, all in elementary schools and each year have had more students who are identifying as LGBTQ, and some are changing their names and in some cases, their pronoun preferences. 

In a recent QPR training, the district provided statistics on how many suicide risk assessments were conducted this year. They had grade and gender data including how many kids identified as gender non conforming. I was not the only mental health provider embarrassed to realize, I never once asked the gender identity question. We had all simply checked the box male or female. So the data that 2% of students assessed and listed as gender non conforming between August and March is low because of our errors in gathering accurate info. From GLSEN’s web page, 

  •  74% of LGBT students were verbally harassed at school 
  • Approximately 30% of LGBT students reported skipping at least one class and missing at least one full day of school in the past month because they felt uncomfortable or unsafe at school.
  • LGBT adolescents and adults have a two to six times higher rates of reported suicide attempts 
  • Two key suicide risk factors for LGBT people are depression and experiences of discrimination, including anti-LGBT harassment and bullying. There is growing evidence that the two factors are linked.

The issues that our students are facing are similar to the issues our staff are facing. While there is a policy in existence for how to support students, no such policy has been written on how to support our LGBTQ educators. Kids are very observant and when they notice staff feel unsafe at school, this affects student’s sense of safety in school as well. Most LGBT students who are harassed or assaulted did not report the incident and the most common reason why was that they believed that staff would not do anything about it. Creating supportive work environments for LGBTQ educators is suicide prevention. The JCEA LGBTQ Caucus has written the following resolution (hand to Helen). It has the support of One Colorado, Support Jeffco Kids, Jeffco PTA, Senator Rachel Zenzinger, Representative Tracy Kraft-Tharp, Representative Briana Titone, TYES, Jeffco Safe Schools Coalition, and our many allies who have written to you. We are asking that you put this resolution on the August Board of Education agenda as an action item. This resolution will re-establish Jeffco as a leader on LGBTQ school issues in Colorado. In a state with an openly gay governor, and a district with an openly transgender legislative representative, Jeffco needs to show up in a way that matters to the LGBTQ community and to truly lead. This is the next step to improve our schools even more. We believe this resolution will strengthen our work in partnership with the district LGBTQ Task Force, while prioritizing educator voice. 

Thank you for your time.

Here is the written speech from Joel Zigman:

Dear Board of Education and Superintendent Jason Glass,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Joel Zigman, I am a music teacher at Leawood Elementary and Dutch Creek Elementary Schools, last year I taught at Swanson Elementary School. I am the founding chair of the JCEA LGBTQ Caucus. I am also transgender. This is my second and my last year teaching in Jefferson County. Though I have many stories of the negative treatment I have received as a transgender teacher in Jeffco, today I will tell you the most extreme.

Two years ago I moved to Denver, Colorado from my hometown of Jersey City, NJ. I had previously been working as a fourth grade associate teacher at a private school in Manhattan where I was totally out with my students and coworkers about being trans. I secured a position at Swanson Elementary School in Arvada, within my first week there I set up a meeting to privately come out to my principal. She responded positively with a very honest and very Jeffco answer of, I support you but I don’t know much about working with transgender teachers. We agreed that the most important thing these first few months of school would be for me to focus on building relationships with students, settling in, and letting the community get to know me regardless of my gender identity. 

In early February 2018, a 6th grade student asked me a pointed question about how she found some videos of me from a while ago and I looked different. It was such an obvious question that I told her it’s because I’m transgender. I contacted my administration that night and suggested that we have a conversation with the students to follow up on this. The district suggested in a meeting that it would be best to just leave this be as an independent, private conversation with a student, without any follow up. In this meeting I was told that as a music teacher I can only talk about music curriculum, and that it would be inappropriate to talk about my “genitals” in front of children, so I definitely could not talk to 6th grade as a class, and that if I did the district would not support me. 

Since I was on a temporary contract at Swanson and in the 6th grade transition someone else was displaced into my position, I found myself reapplying for jobs the next year, and I secured a position at Leawood and Dutch Creek Elementary Schools. Again I came into this school year wanting to get to know students without gender identity in the picture. But around November it was starting to feel like there was a significant piece missing in my relationships with students. So I proactively scheduled a meeting with the district to talk about what it would look like for me to be out at school. I brought up that it would be really helpful if we could get ahead of any situation with me coming out to students by planning for a short proactive conversation with some of the older students. I proposed that this would give us ample opportunity to collaborate on the message and communication strategies, seek out any training or community support we might need to be successful, plan ahead for when we wanted these conversation to happen, and come at it from a place of positivity and clarity. The district’s response was that we could not proactively have these conversations, but that I can still be out by answering questions honestly.  I made the argument that the consequence of this is that I come into school every day fearful of whether or not this will be the day that I come out, and that I constantly second guess and intentionally hide many answers I might give in conversations. This puts me in a situation where my professional judgment in this amorphous area of what constitutes “answering questions” could be very likely called into question. It also does a disservice to my administrators by putting us in a situation where we are working reactively to handle an emergency rather than proactively planning.

The situation I predicted at that meeting in November is what came true the week of March 4th. I answered a student on trans issues in a way I thought was appropriate, my judgment was called into question, and my administrators and I were scrambling to figure out a series of miscommunications.  On Monday, March 18th I received a 6 page evaluative document of pure transphobia, none of which had anything to do with my actual music teaching, which is effective and has resulted in at least 8 successful student concerts this year. In this document I discovered that a letter had been sent home to family members of that 6th grade class about me being trans that I did not previously know about. There were many offensives sentences accusing me of mishandling situations but the worst was: “You are reminded that you applied for and were hired as an elementary music instructor and it is expected that you focus on music content.” The district message was that this was not about me being transgender, it was about me not respecting “policy” or authority and unnecessarily promoting my “cause” as an activist. Even though the district does not currently have a transgender educator policy and according to my research with anti-discrimination law experts at NEA and the ACLU, there is no state or federal policy on this issue and the district gets to decide what their policy is. Jeffco’s message to me was that being transgender is information that should be kept private and it is my responsibility to learn how to do that. I was also told I would receive a letter of direction, with the possibility of a letter of reprimand in the future if I did not comply.

No matter how the district phrases it, this isn’t actually about me being an activist, this is just about me being transgender. It is a thin veil for transphobia. I was told by the district that I am “more interested in being transgender than in being a teacher” and it is the single most offensive thing anybody has ever said to me. All I have ever wanted to be is a music teacher. I have previously worked jobs where I was primarily doing trans advocacy and I was not happy because I missed working with kids and playing music every day. Teaching music to children is my greatest joy in life and I worked hard to build a career where that is what I do every day. I chose to be a music teacher, that was a path I intentionally walked. Being transgender was not a choice. I should not have to choose between being transgender and being a teacher.

My application to reapply for my position, which was temporary again, was posted soon after I received this evaluative feedback. I sat down a few times to fill it out but I could not do it. I cried many nights over it. Coming back to teach at Leawood next year, not being able to introduce myself honestly as a trans person to my students who I have built strong relationships with, is not an option for me. I am an excellent music teacher, thanks in large part to training I received through new teacher induction at Jeffco. I deserve to work somewhere that is going to meet all of my needs. I did not see a way forward in Jeffco Public Schools where this situation got any better for me. It was only a matter of time until my trans identity came up again and I was clearly heading towards disciplinary action. I had honestly lost all faith in my work partnering with JCEA and the district on an LGBTQ Task Force that recently released a survey on staff inclusivity. After working in close partnership with district HR, Legal, and Student Engagement office teams, nothing new was going to change if I hadn’t been heard already. I felt handcuffed, like I couldn’t share the story of what was happening with my close coworkers out of fear I would be again reprimanded for being “too much of an activist.” It seemed the only way I could be open about my story and feel safe at work was to leave. 

My existence is not a controversy, it is an asset, and I am disappointed that Jeffco Public Schools does not see it that way. This is not my first, second, third, fourth, or even fifth time coming to district administrators with these concerns. But it is my last. These experiences have been dehumanizing, disempowering, and have made me physically sick. What message does it send to our students when we force trans teachers to work in the closet? We are essentially telling our trans students that they don’t deserve to have role models, that a career in teaching isn’t possible for them, that being transgender is something to hide. I am here today because even though the district has made mistakes in my situation, that doesn’t have to be the way things are handled with the next trans teacher. Our students deserve diverse role models who can connect with them on a variety of identities. Our students deserve mentors who can build honest, strong relationships.

That is why the Colorado Trans Educators Network, the JCEA LGBTQ Caucus, Jeffco Safe Schools Coalition, and our many friends and allies are asking the Jeffco Board of Education to pass the proposed “Resolution in Support of our LGBTQ+  Students, Employees, and Community Members”, and to adopt the policy “Guidelines Regarding the Support of Staff Who are Transgender and/or Gender Non-Conforming” that our group has co-drafted with the CEA legal team.

Thank you for your time.

Here is the Resolution the group proposed:

Resolution in Support of our LGBTQ+ Students, Employees, and Community Members

Resolution in Support of our LGBTQ+ Students, Employees, and Community Members

WHEREAS, Jeffco Public Schools (“JPS”) is committed to providing safe and welcoming spaces where all students, employees, and community members are supported, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation; and

WHEREAS, the Board whole-heartedly embraces JPS’s LGBTQ+ students, employees, and community members for the diversity they bring to our schools and workplaces and strives to ensure that they are seen, accepted, and celebrated for who they truly are; and

WHEREAS, the Board expresses extreme concern about any action that would limit the rights of this valued community and will stand firm to reject any proposed limitation or attempt to devalue this community;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Jeffco Public Schools’ Board of Education restates its strong commitment to its LGBTQ+, intersex, gender expansive, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming students and employees by re-emphasizing the necessity that JPS’s AntiDiscrimination Board Policies are fully implemented throughout the District; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, as a few examples of these commitments (but certainly not an exhaustive list), students, employees, and community members can expect that by the 20-21 school year JPS will:

  • Work to expand Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) into every middle and high school, as well as other supports in the District’s schools.
  • Update anti-discrimination and harassment policies to strengthen LGBTQ+ educator protections including adopting a transgender educator policy.
  • Change the language in transgender student policy to place less emphasis on case-by-case management, making the needs of the individual the priority. Create a clearer definition of what it means to be “out” and what it means to be “outed” with regards to Jeffco student policy.
  • Create and begin implementing a plan through the Student Engagement Office in collaboration with the JCEA LGBTQ+ Caucus for all staff and administration to be trained on building a safe culture for LGBTQ+ students and staff at school.
  • Support the teaching and development of LGBTQ+ affirming curriculum across grade levels and content areas.
  • Include resources for LGBTQ+ students in school handbook, planner, and online.
  • Update HR policies including: less prohibitive name change procedures; removing unnecessary instances where gender identity is used as a category; adding non-binary gender options; changing onboarding references from “wife” and “husband” to “spouse.”
  • Clarify the chain of command for procedure when LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination and support policy violations occur. Designate a person who will be the main point of contact on transgender policy who is a trained expert on LGBTQ+ issues. Perform a cost impact analysis to move towards hiring an outside consultant, or bringing on a full time employee to facilitate this role.