I told you two weeks ago about Seth Stambaugh, the Oregon student teacher who was removed from his fourth grade classroom. A student had asked why he wasn’t married and he acknowledged that it was illegal for him to get married in Oregon. That ended the conversation with the student, but Stambaugh was quickly and summarily fired.
[wpaudio url=”http://blog.mattalgren.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/seth-stambaugh-opb-the-conversation.mp3″ text=”The conversation.”]
For the first time in a looooong string of incidents like this, the good guys won. Six weeks after his removal and following a sizable backlash from parents, Stambaugh has been returned to his classroom, effective this morning. What’s more, the Beaverton, Oregon School Board has unanimously approved a nondiscrimination resolution.
The one-page resolution reaffirms the district’s nondiscrimination and diversity policies, resolves that everyone is entitled to the same rights and privileges, and calls upon everyone in the district and community to “call out discrimination if and when it occurs, and to ensure that all persons in our schools are and feel welcome, valued, respected and safe.”
“I like what we’ve written,” said Lisa Shultz, board member. “But it’s not enough. It will never be enough.”
A couple of board members choked up as they talked about their concerns and the need for change. Over the past month, they have received letters and e-mails with stories of bullying, harassment and discrimination involving sexual minorities in the district.
The resolution “is the minimum,” said Mary VanderWeele, board member. “From here, we need to move to a place where no one has to be in the closet.”
Most people who spoke at the meeting thanked the board for reinstating Stambaugh but reminded the board of past wrongs and the long road ahead.
Troy Lakey, a gay father, said he has two students in the district.
“I want my son to feel safe,” Lakey said, his voice choked. “I don’t want him to be bullied … based on my sexual orientation.”
I’ll close this post with a statement Stambaugh made last Friday after he was reinstated.
At Sexton Mountain I was in a vulnerable position: it was my first week of teaching, I was not a formal employee, I was not a part of the Teacherâ€™s Union. I was never informed nor had any indication that discussions of marital status were “inappropriate” or “unprofessional.” These words are nonsensical and provide no guidance when not supported by dialogue, which never came. To this day, no one has yet explained how these words apply to a discussion about marital status.
The decision to reinstate me is a great first step, but does not address the larger issue at hand, which, quite frankly, is killing our students: that somehow queer is not okay. My hasty disappearance from Sexton Mountain is an express example that sends this message to children, many of whom are perceived to be different, may live in LGBT families, or may be queer themselves. All parents have a valid right to voice any question or concern they may have regarding their childâ€™s public school education. But public schools have a responsibility to ensure that they are not favoring an educational model that discriminates against queer people, or any other minority.
This is precisely what happened when Beaverton School District removed me from that classroom.
Discrimination comes in many forms and does not necessitate intent; often, in fact, unconscious discrimination can be the most dangerous kind. When there is institutional discrimination, conscious intent is impossible to gauge, but the fact is, individual people make institutional decisions. There is still no clarity about how, why, and by whom this decision for my removal was made. Neither the Beaverton School District nor any administrator has issued any apology to me. Neither the Beaverton School District nor any administrator has acknowledged the harm, the stigma, and the damage to me personally as a result of what they, and everyone, now recognizes as a discriminatory action. Though the decision for my reinstatement is, as I said earlier, a great first step, it is only that: a first step.
It is clear that all communities can learn from this instance, and do the work that still needs to be done to protect our children–ALL of our children.
I am extraordinarily happy about my return to Sexton Mountain and look forward so much to doing what I came here to do: to teach.