Supporters of stronger LGBTQ policies waited together for six hours to explain why the Jefferson County Public Schools board should update its anti-discrimination practices. In small groups at the microphone, they made their case.
“I do feel like the policies could be updated,” said Lisa Lee, a Jeffco teacher who is a lesbian. “Some of the language is not as clear as it could be.”
After the group finished speaking shortly after midnight Friday morning, Superintendent Jason Glass said the school board would consider the group’s proposed resolution this summer.
“Jeffco public schools wishes to be an inclusive place for students and staff, so we take very seriously the things that were raised, and we do feel that we have inclusive, welcoming policies for students and staff, but we’re interested in hearing where those may not be sufficient,” said Glass.
Lee said she has felt overwhelmingly accepted in the district, but she’s aware some other LGBTQ colleagues have not.
While the board worked through its packed agenda, members of the Jefferson County Education Association, students, and parents, waited to back a proposed resolution that would create a specific transgender educator policy, support a curriculum that is more inclusive of the LGBTQ community, develop LGBTQ training for all staff and administration, and update human resources policies, among other initiatives.
Craig Hess, Chief Legal Counsel for Jeffco Public Schools, said the district already has strong anti-discrimination policies to protect students and staff.
For example, one policy states that “no person shall be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to unlawful discrimination, in any district program or activity on the basis of ethnicity or race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, age, veteran status, or disability.”
While Hess acknowledged there is currently no district policy for transgender educators, he said an LGBTQ work group is in place to survey staff members about current policies. He said the findings of that work group should be completed soon. Teachers who spoke at Thursday night’s meeting hope their proposed resolution will build on the work of that group.
Hess said he will review the group’s proposal.
“I think it’s important that this group understands that it’s the intent of the district to provide a work environment where all teachers feel supported,” Hess said. “I’m an openly gay man, and I’m the general counsel for the district, and I’ve never felt anything but empowerment, support, respect, dignity, in how I’ve been treated anywhere in this district.”
The proposal comes after one transgender music teacher working at two elementary schools in Jeffco said school administrators asked him to keep his transgender identity private from students. Hess said the district has launched an investigation, but he questioned the validity of those allegations.
“I don’t believe that’s accurate, because our policies allow an individual to talk honestly about who they are,” Hess said. “I’m not sure he truly appreciates all of the policies that exist.”
Hess also said all staff and administrators receive some mandatory training, and other voluntary inclusiveness training programs are available to staff, as well.
But Lee said she hasn’t received mandatory training on LGBTQ issues in her nine years teaching in the Jeffco district.
“I don’t want to play an adversarial role at all,” Lee said. “All I want is just to make sure that protections that are here now are acknowledged, and that we get some more foundation and meat to them.”
State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat who has worked extensively on education issues, was at the meeting and supported the resolution. She said her child is a non-binary, gender-fluid student who wants to become a special education teacher.
“If there is ever a place for my child to be successful, it’s going to be in…a school that should be an inclusive environment. If educators right now are experiencing any creative frustration around that, I feel very strongly that this is the time to work on it,” she said. “If you don’t have the conversation, nothing will change.”
Sam Long is a transgender teacher who previously worked at a charter school in the Denver Public School System and plans to start teaching at Standley Lake High School in Jeffco this fall. He said he hopes the district will stay true to its word to seriously consider the resolution.
“There’s not strong evidence to the public that transgender teachers exist, and that’s partly because we’re not able to be out in some contexts and we’re not seen, and sometimes our identities get erased or marginalized,” Long said. “My role is to continue to show that we exist, and that there are more of us, and to support the district’s staff is to support trans staff.”