Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Is Decision of Middle School Principals on Posting Diversity Signs Regressive?

Award-winning Conestoga High School’s newspaper ‘The Spoke’ recently ran an anonymous op-ed Letter to the Editor, titled ‘A Sign of Intolerance’. An interesting editorial, the writer discussed the recent decision by TESD middle school principals not to post the sign,“This classroom [or office] is a safe learning environment for all students regardless of ability, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation.”

This diversity sign is found in all of the high school classrooms and offices but the two middle school principals (T/E and Valley Forge) decided against posting the sign in their school classrooms. I’m not quite sure why? Manuevering through the early teen years can be difficult for many children, and for their parents. Peer pressure of the middle school years can be overwhelming; our children are acutely aware of what their friends think, and that can affect their self-perception and values. Not that I think a posted sign in middle school classrooms would automatically change attitudes and create acceptance, but what is wrong with reinforcement that school is a safe enviroment regardless of your differences?

The School Board has a Diversity Committee so I wonder why this decision to ‘not post’ the signage was left to the middle school principals; and further why did the middle schoold educators made this choice? Or, does the school board not make this type of district policy decision? For those that may better understand the rationale for this decision, I’d appreciate your comments. Below is the editorial that appears in the recent edition of The Spoke.

A Sign of Intolerance
Anonymous Letter to the Editor
The Spoke, Conestoga High School

As they walk through the halls of Conestoga, students of different ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions and races can feel like they have the chance to be accepted. They know that once they enter any classroom, their teacher will offer them a safe environment in which they can grow and develop.

This automatic sense of security is provided in each high school classroom by a sign bearing the words, “This classroom [or office] is a safe learning environment for all students regardless of ability, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation.”

On Dec. 9, the school board’s diversity committee recommended that these signs be included in both T/E and Valley Forge Middle Schools, where they would have provided assurance to those in fifth through eighth grades. When the decision was brought to the education committee, however, the middle school principals were given the final say as to whether or not to include the signs in the schools. Here, they ultimately decided to reverse this forward-thinking protocol.

This decision directly followed a diversity committee meeting where parents and students in attendance spoke out in favor of the sign. Regardless of a Conestoga student’s first-hand testimony about her harsh middle school career as an openly-bisexual student, the middle school principals decided to ban the signs, thereby restricting openness among their students.

Despite any reasoning that these administrators might offer, we on The Spoke’s editorial board believe that the middle school principals’ actions only serve to limit progress in the areas of tolerance and acceptance for students.

Let us be clear that we make no presumptions that such a sign can prevent the formation of personal prejudices that many students already hold. We recognize the need for further initiatives to help instill this greater sense of acceptance yet, as a starting point, the sign is a step in the right direction. It is one of the simplest ways for students to gain a better understanding of the diversity that exists in our society.

The educators that made this decision must realize that the sign, though it may simply be a piece of paper bearing inspirational words, is also a symbol of the tolerance that students of all ages deserve. By removing this emblem, the district shows a decided lack of interest in the development of diversity and acceptance of various groups of individuals.

In light of recent budget cuts, T/E has been forced to make tough decisions for the future. Throughout this process, the district’s rationale has been linked to a desire to “develop students who will be prepared to excel in the 21st century.” However, there is little chance of this happening if administrators continue to implement such regressive policies.

The school district leaves us with no other option but this: we, as students, have to do what those signs will not. We have to make sure that our fellow students feel safe and accepted when they walk into a classroom. We have to reject the indifference of our higher ups and counter it with acceptance, tolerance and belief. Belief that we can be the change that they refuse to give us.

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  1. I don’t think having those signs removed “restricts openness”.
    Values don’t come from signs. Yet it is curious why the middle school administrators removed them. I would like to hear their side of the story. Maybe there is a reason.

  2. Fifth graders should not have signs in front of them in every room they sit in all day speaking to sexual orientation, regardless of intent. How much more out of hand can political correctness get!?

    Thank goodness the principals did not post these.

    1. it gave me pause when reading of an openly-bisexual middle school student.

      Also, if there’s going to be such a sign, how about adding to the list “regardless of …”, political views. Talk to any conservative student who’s been in a social studies class at the high school, especially during an election year.

      1. Here’s the hard part for all of us — sexuality has become part of the middle school code…either those that do or those that don’t. While facebook was once for emails limited to dot edu, it is the rare MS student that does not have a fb account, and the exchanges there are quite open. Parents who are sure their kids do not have these accounts may or may not be right, as you can open these accounts at any friends’ house, or using anyone’s cell phone that has a data plan. So — the openly bisexual middle school student is not unique….and the difficulty expressed by the high school student on behalf of middle schoolers is quite serious. If a 7th grader is a bit different — the conclusion on the part of peers and foes is that he/she is gay…so the child can be bullied. But here’s where it all gets murky — most gay adults will openly acknowledge that while they might not have known what it was, they KNEW they were gay in 7th grade…
        So again — these signs are what they are — but the values for kids are evolving and we need to pay attention outside of school.

      2. Mike, I agree.. Dinner table conversations have sometimes evolved into detoxiifying what the high school kids learn in social studies. My kids haven’t drunk the koolaid. But some have, as have their parents.

  3. Grant has one valid point. More generally, the sign is both naive and incomplete. Schools are supposed to be safe environments, period.

    Blanket anti-bullying and intimidation policies should (and I believe do) exist.

    Protection of students is not limited to the CRA-style “protected categories” that sign seems to follow. Making such a limited list is worse than making no list at all. After all, if the sign is meant to carry any meaning then when somebody harasses a student for his clothing or appearance does the aggressor simply shrug and say, “Well come on, it’s not on the sign so how big a deal could it be?”

  4. The Diversity Committee recommended posting the sign. However, the Diversity Committee is NOT a board committee. It is a community group with Board and Administrative Liaisons.

    With the Diversity Committee’s support, this issue was sent to the Education Committee for review. The Diversity Committee does not make policy and has no power to do so. Any policy would need to go to Policy for implementation. And Policy would act upon recommendations by Education. (I know this is confusing, but it is a bureaucracy.)

    So the Education Committee reviewed the request and asked for feedback from teachers and administrators. From my understanding, there were no Board objections voiced against posting the signs. But the Board wanted to respect what the educational experts and people who actually teach the children felt, so they asked for input from them.

    The two middle school principals then spoke with teachers about it. Some teachers were enthusiastic. Many teachers felt that this was already covered by the general anti-bullying signs and policy. And some teachers expressed concern about the age appropriateness of the material. Overall, there was not a consensus amongst the teachers.

    While I support the signs, I do agree that the Board made the right choice by giving teachers a voice in the decision. I also think it is likely that many parents would have strong objections to the signs if they had been posted in the middle school.

    Regarding Pattye’s question “why bother to have signs at the high school?” it is my understanding that the high school students lobbied for these signs themselves. The Middle School students are not lobbying for the signs but rather High School students suggested them. Also, I would note that the high school student who made the suggestion was picked as a pioneer of the month and commended for her effortst to suggest this to the board and for her bravery. So the district is not unfriendly or unresponsive to these concerns in my opinion.

    1. Diversity Committee Member — Thank you for your explanation and helping us to understand the background of the decision. I applaud the high school student’s efforts. It takes courage to take a stand (at any age!) and I’m impressed by her commitment.

  5. I think the op-Ed letter has some interesting points and my favorite part was the last paragraph. In it, the writer talks about personal responsibilty, something sorely missed in our current culture. Let’s be frank. It’s not about the sign and we all know that. If we need a sign to remind us to treat each other with respect – we are a society that has lost its moral compass. If there MUST be a personal behavior sign in our schools, how about the Golden Rule. “Do to others what you would like done to you”. It’s short, simple and should cover just about everything.

  6. You are dead on Jim. But I think what we all need to consider AND believe is that values are taught in the home. The older student wants to protect the middle school student because he/she knows that kids at that age are feeling things but can’t find a safe place to ask about it. We all know the elephant in the room is sexuality here — and few parents are willing to explore any evidence of sexuality in middle school years. I think the Golden Rule is clearly the answer — but I’m almost equally certain that somehow that would be inappropriate — because while every culture and every belief system has something similar, the Golden Rule as we know it comes from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew I believe. And we all know that anything said in the Bible is not going to be allowed in schools….stripping values out of our system means we need people to teach them at home. The cynic in me wants to say that we’re too busy driving to soccer practice and competing in four seasons of sports and picking up from daycare. Those are the realities, and there is no need to link them to the loss of a moral compass, but I think it’s great that an older student is trying to address the lack of moral information at the middle school level.

  7. Forget the signs. President Obama will make it all right, OK seriously,

    Perhaps one of our cultural problems is that some in our society have expelled, or are trying to expel God from our culture. Politically incorrect to mention God.

    As we become more secular, we become less responsible. But that may just be the plan. No, I am not a God squadder.
    Signs are meaningless. Teach the values.. Get them while they are young.

  8. Maybe it’s that as we become less responsible, we become more secular. After all — raising kids in the church means one more place you have to drive them — and nowadays, churches compete for attention from soccer practice and countless athletic conflicts that take place on Sundays. I know a lot of well meaning parents who simply have given up church and all that goes with it — just too busy and too tired. What is important to note: it is much easier to raise a value free child than to teach (and subsequently enforce and model) values.

    1. Or perhaps parents are too tired of all the mishandled controversies and exclusion within organized religion. One can surely raise children with strong value systems outside of churches. And in fact, kids can and do learn some amazing values through participation in sports and other extracurricular activities.
      All that being said, I’m not crazy about the thought of a ten year old coming home from school to ask what bisexual means. But as a parent, it is my job to explain, guide and ensure my child is accepting of others differences and choices.

  9. Agreed Anon.2 there are different places where kids learn values. MTV, facebook, internet.. its easy for parents to abdicate responsibility…

    Sports and other extra activities are good. But where do the values come from? I don’t care if the golden rule comes from the bible, I think kids should be taught about it. How about an honor code? specific to the grade level. maybe kids at an early age should get an ethics course, maybe in 6th-8th grade.or maybe they can and should get it at home. Now, I have to go play tennis…

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