Shurita Thomas Tate is a member of the Springfield Board of Education. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Over the past school year, several Springfield citizens have called for Springfield Public Schools to issue a statement of support for its LGBTQ students and staff. 

It’s a charge that has been led by GLO Center President Kyler Sherman-Wilkins, who has submitted a proposed draft of the statement to the Springfield Board of Education, and has asked for the board to make a support statement during the public comment portions of board meetings. It’s an effort that has drawn support from nearly 400 people who have signed an online petition created by Brittany Dyer, a frequent board meeting speaker. 

May 16, for the first time during a school board meeting, a board member joined their call. 

“I wanted to state that I’m in favor of this board of education making a statement of support or resolution that affirms our commitment to creating and maintaining a safe and welcoming learning and working environment that is free from discrimination and harassment and where all individuals are treated with dignity and respect,” board member Shurita Thomas-Tate said. “While ideally this statement should hold true for all of our students, teachers and staff, administrators and families, a specific statement addressing support of trans students is warranted given the current demoralizing and dehumanizing efforts that are being pushed to further marginalize trans folks.” 

“It’s my hope that this board can come together to let everyone know of our commitment to the well-being of all of our students and employees.” 

Thomas-Tate issued her request during the board comment portion of the meeting, a time when each member gets the opportunity to talk. There was no back-and-forth about the request among board members, which is typical during the board comment sessions that conclude the public meetings. 

The request for a statement of support was again a focal point for several speakers who signed up for the 10 available spots to address the board with public comments. 

“Over and over and over I’m hearing the same thing,” said Dyer, who created the petition and has organized rallies and events in support of LGBTQ students. “(Students) just want to be seen. They just want to have space to grow as their authentic self. And they want to feel safe at school. Safe at school is the bare minimum we should be able to provide these students.”

Miliana Sylvester, a 16-year-old International Baccalaureate student at Central High School, said she has eight siblings of multiple ethnicities and ages enrolled in SPS. 

“So trust me when I say I can speak for a wide range of student voices,” she said. 

Sylvester said that when she thinks of what her siblings need to take advantage of the high-quality academic opportunities the Springfield district strives to offer, a sense of safety is the top priority.  

“A public statement of support would simply send a powerful and much needed message that says that the Springfield school district is one that is welcoming and inclusive to all of its staff and students,” Sylvester said. 

Aftermath of events in Jefferson City and at Glendale High School

Sherman-Wilkins reiterated his call for the statement of support May 16, pointing to two pieces of state legislation that were recently passed and target trans minors — one that restricts access to gender-affirming health care for minors and another that bans trans athletes from participating on public, charter and college school teams that align with their gender identity. 

While calling once more for a statement of support, Sherman-Wilkins focused on the recent resignation of a teacher at Glendale HIgh School after a student recorded him using the N-word multiple times during a geometry class. Sherman-Wilkins said it was evidence that diversity, equity and inclusion training was essential for school staff. He also said the student who recorded the teacher should not have been suspended for using her phone in class. 

Thomas-Tate, in her remarks, touched on the Glendale incident as well.

“It’s my prayer that SPS can make national headlines for our unified support of our LGBTQ-plus students and queer students and employees instead of the current negative headlines that we are getting recognition for,” Thomas-Tate said.

Stories about the Glendale teacher’s use of the N-word in class, as well as the student’s suspension for violating the district’s cell phone policy in recording it, have been shared in the Washington Post, CNN, Mother Jones and other national media outlets.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson