Opinion | Scott M. Estill: Age appropriate

Do you need to be certifiably crazy to serve on the Summit School District Board of Education? I posed this question to the current school board and was informed that the board as a whole couldn’t comment without public notice due to Colorado’s sunshine Law. Yet, it seems that a bit of craziness probably helps!

The politicization of school boards is a major problem across the country and political spectrum.

Several readers of this publication have written letters pointing out the left-leaning politics of our current board. At a recent public meeting, many local residents spoke out against the board’s resolution on inclusiveness and the rights of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) students.  Some parents claimed that these were social issues that were not related to academic learning. A few flat-out stated that they did not want their children exposed to anything related to L, G, B, T or Q topics; others said their religion prohibited such conversations.

But what is this actual (and apparently controversial) resolution? While it has some legalese that wouldn’t even interest a lawyer, it is a surprisingly simple document to read. Its message is also simple to summarize (but important): we’re not going to discriminate against any child who wants to receive an education in Summit County. Furthermore, the board made clear that “including LGBTQ+ and other historically marginalized groups in standards and curriculum does not make the instruction or content a controversial subject.” Most importantly, the resolution specifically states that all instruction must be “age-appropriate.”

As a parent I applaud the board for approving this resolution. All children, from the first day of kindergarten to the end of senior year, should be treated with dignity and respect. And “all” means all. To disagree implies that some children deserve more respect than others.

At the February board meeting it was reported that the 2023 student body is roughly 55% white, 39% Hispanic and 6% other ethnicities. Assuming that some of the “white” population falls into the LGBTQ+ category, we are really discussing a resolution that equalizes treatment for one half of the student body. It means that we are dealing with a lot of different, unique people from very different and unique backgrounds, all with unique challenges.

It is imperative that all schools provide an environment that respects diversity, equity and inclusion. This is not negotiable.

Banning discrimination in all forms permits us to be able to focus on making sure that our education system provides a quality education to every Summit County student. Unfortunately, “quality education” can mean very different things to many different people, especially to those of us who identify as “parents.”

What would success actually look like? If every graduate of our public K-12 educational system left with a diploma certifying that they could read, write and understand English (and hopefully one or two other languages as well), could communicate clearly, and work well with others, the school system would be successful.

It would be even more successful if we were able to add some mental/emotional balance to the mix. Every school should be a safe place. Safe from the students’ perspective.

It means teaching the students how to think instead of what to think. It means teaching students communication and collaboration skills. It means encouraging team sports, band, theater, clubs, etc. to have students escape the boredom of staring at the latest iPhone for at least a few hours every day.

Finally, the education system is at some point going to have to put some trust in the students. Fortunately, students are nowhere near as clueless as the system thinks. And the attack comes from the left and right. As stupid as the right-wing censors look when children’s books about Rosa Parks and Roberto Clemente get on the banned lists, the left manages to look just as incompetent when some districts have wanted to keep “Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” out of students’ hands.

There are many examples of how little society trusts our children with knowledge. It is insulting in many districts nationwide how little faith those running the schools actually have in the students. What little faith they have in the student making the right decisions. And they lack this faith in pupils from a very young age, such as early elementary school. After grinding through the vigorous pre-K and kindergarten years, our youngest, according to some school boards, are not mature enough to handle “And Tango Makes Three,” a children’s true-life story book about 2 male penguins at a New York Zoo and the zookeeper who provided the pair with their own egg, which later becomes Tango the penguin.

It is possible for us to reach a sensible common ground using a simple reasonableness standard (and yes, I know nothing is simple, especially what is “reasonable”). To tell the story of the patriarchal nightmare in Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” would be patently unreasonable if the audience were a class of 6-year-old students, yet imminently reasonable if we add a mere decade to this class. Likewise, I would not suggest the book about Tango the penguin to those in high school. Age appropriate.

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