Opinon | Susan Knopf: No one wants to be an outsider

Last Saturday, I taught a 6 and 7 year old how to ski. At the end of the two-hour lesson, we skied down from beginner chair seven at Loveland. Their moms looked happy and said “The kids may have been ready for the chairlift, but we weren’t!”

That’s how things went at Tuesday’s school board meeting regarding the district’s new inclusion policy. Preschool teachers and LGBTQ community members said identity begins to demonstrate itself in preschool. Parents said kids in kindergarten to third grade shouldn’t learn this stuff.

For the record, Colorado law HB19-1192 mandates teaching the culture and contributions from diverse ethnicities and members of the LGBTQ community to students from preschool to 12th grade.

Parents want control. As a 66-year-old mom of three, and grandma of two, let me assure you control is largely a myth. Get over it. As Elsa sings in Frozen “Let it go.”

Letting go is what the inclusion policy is about. We are acknowledging identity and its myriad presentations. Parents may not like it. These differences exist, and have existed for thousands of years, whether you and your religion approve or not.

For the record, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon church) supported the recent passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, protecting the LGBTQ community. According to the Deseret News, a church-owned Utah newspaper, the Mormons have been working to reconcile their own belief that marriage is only between a man and woman, and embracing social justice for the LGBT community.

Summit School District Superintendent Tony Byrd told me, “The greatest gift we can give to our kids is to create a welcoming, inclusive space. It’s good for the brain. It’s good for emotional health.”

Equity and inclusion polices are designed to create communities where people feel safe to learn. No one is indoctrinating or grooming. It’s not sex education. We are learning to go beyond tolerance, beyond acceptance, to positive engagement, to making a diverse circle of friends.

At the meeting, parents objected to the privacy component of the inclusion policy. The policy empowers kids to discuss their identity choice with those with whom they feel safe. Unfortunately, that may not include their families. The most important thing is students go to school in a safe place, free of fear of bullying.

We have a long history of bullying those we view as different. Bullying contributes to our high youth suicide rate. The Centers for Disease Control reports suicide is the second-leading cause of death in youth 10-14 years old. The CDC reports nearly a quarter of LGBTQ high schoolers attempt suicide. That rate is four times higher than their heterosexual peers.

Some people may be on their journey to becoming allies of marginalized classmates, while others need more help. A child may enter first grade already reading, that doesn’t mean the teacher isn’t going to teach the rest of the class to read.

Parents like to think their children are angels, but students and teachers at the school board meeting said kids discriminate and they can be brutal. Identity and inclusion education is needed for the entire community. Superintendent Byrd said, “What’s good for any student — in terms of belonging — is good for every student.

Our children are going to work in diverse environments. They need to feel comfortable with other cultures and diverse sexual identities. We want them to know Bayard Rustin, Martin’s Luther King’s right-hand man, was openly gay. This is an academic pursuit appropriate for schools.

Byrd said, it’s a “false dichotomy” to distinguish academics from social and emotional wellbeing. “Wherever we go there we are. We bring ourselves in the space.”

Building a strong school community improves academic performance and emotional wellbeing. Don’t we all want that for our kids?

We can be curious. We can be inclusive. We can be kind. We can be loving. We can walk the walk, and do G-d’s work. And if we have no religious beliefs, we can simply be human and treat others as we would like to be treated.

I’m not a person of color, nor am I transgender. I don’t know what they experience or feel. I know when I learn more, I am more comfortable and effective with people who identify differently than me.

Byrd said, “Students are watching us. It’s time to step up to the plate and be inclusive.”

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