by Kathy Munzinger, Springfield
I write to you as a concerned member of the community, as a member of PFLAG Springfield, as a SPS Ambassador and most of all, as a mother whose children attended Springfield Public Schools.
In an email to Kickapoo High School teachers dated August 18th, principal Bill Powers made all employees remove Pride flags from their classrooms, referencing an SPS policy prohibiting “any speech or conduct that represents a personal opinion as the opinion of the district.”
This decision prohibits teachers from showing their support for their LGBTQ+ students — a population that is exponentially targeted for bullying and harassment at school. This decision makes our schools less safe for students who are LGBTQ+; kids who need to know they have an ally in the classroom.
What we already know from GLSEN’s most recent School Climate Survey is that more than 4 out of 5 LGBTQ+ students (87.3%) experience harassment or assault at school. We also know that LGBTQ+ students who experience victimization and discrimination at school are more likely to skip school, to be disciplined, to have lower GPAs, have lower self-esteem, a lower sense of school belonging, and have higher levels of depression.
Most importantly, we know that these are not foregone conclusions. LGBTQ+ students with many (11 or more) supportive staff at school — people who are often identifiable by their Safe Space sticker, a rainbow flag or clothing — report being less likely to feel unsafe at school, less likely to miss school, and less likely to want to drop out. LGBTQ+ kids who have support at school have higher GPAs and a greater sense of belonging in their school community.
In the last two years, the lives, education, and safety of LGBTQ+ youth have been the things of political currency. Even here, the argument to remove safety nets for a targeted group of children in our schools is rooted not in their well-being, but in a politically charged and inflammatory statement of an employee. I am here to tell you, as a mother, a member of PFLAG and a champion of public schools, that LGBTQ+ students — and all students in Springfield Public Schools — deserve better.
I am advocating for LGBTQ+ kids like mine; they deserve to feel safe and welcomed in their schools. It is not enough to simply state that our schools are safe and welcoming to all. In this environment, that is not a given for LGBTQ+ youth. Teachers cannot be effective and affirmative allies if they fear that simply putting up a Pride flag in their classrooms will be marked as political speech and subject them to a reprimand. Absent action, absent visible affirmative allyship and inclusive school policies, these kids lack a safety net when they are targets of harassment, from other kids and adults, alike.
Like all parents, whether you have one child or many, myself and my fellow PFLAG parents want our children to have the chance to be their best and to thrive. I urge you to affirm that teachers may display Pride flags and other allyship symbols in their classrooms. Please create the safe, supportive environment that all students deserve.