Members of the Kansas City LGBTQ Commission were told they couldn’t speak on behalf of gender non-conforming and LGBTQ children in the Independence School District at Tuesday night’s meeting. Officials said that’s because only district residents and employees are allowed to address the board, per district policy, even though the Independence School District is one of more than a dozen districts within the boundaries of Kansas City proper.
We have no evidence that they were singled out for exclusion, or that other non-residents have been allowed to speak in the past.
Yet the fact that the Independence school board then did listen on Tuesday night to a parent who called the teacher who’d started a gay inclusion club a pedophile made us wonder if whatever rules there are that make hate speech OK need a common sense update.
During the public comment portion of the monthly meeting, the mother of a 15-year-old student complained about the use of preferred pronouns and the creation of a Sexuality and Gender Awareness club at William Chrisman High School. She called for the firing of the teacher who started the group, and called that female teacher a pedophile for having done so.
Neither School Board President Denise Fears nor Superintendent Dale Herl corrected her, or reacted at all. She might as well have been reading the lunch menu. That, too, is policy: The board isn’t supposed to respond to comments in any way. But common sense would dictate that on Tuesday, they should have made an exception.
And turning away advocates for underrepresented school children follows a disturbing pattern in Independence schools.
Herl still hasn’t explained why he recommended and the school board approved this year disabling the option for students to pick their preferred pronouns when logging in for virtual classes. Herl also ordered the removal of Independence Black Lives Matter and gay pride posters from the walls of a middle school last fall.
District officials have an obligation to meet the needs of all children.
Marcie Gragg, a former city councilwoman who is considering running again, urged the board to reconsider its policy on who can and cannot speak.
Technically, Gragg herself should not have been allowed to speak on Tuesday, according to board policy. Yes, she’s a district resident, but everyone who wants to speak is supposed to email a board secretary one week prior to a board meeting to request to speak. Pre-approval is needed and comments or questions directed to board members are requested in advance. Some are allowed, most aren’t.
Board policy says speakers can only talk about what’s on the agenda, which this month was posted three days after the district’s own deadline.
Gragg didn’t meet the impossible deadline, of course.
Another problem is that school board meetings in Independence aren’t live-streamed. Nor are recordings available on YouTube for later viewing.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Gragg said after the meeting. “It’s difficult to tell a community that you want parent involvement and engagement and then make it so difficult for us to actually be involved and engaged.”
When policies allow room for unchallenged hate speech and not inclusion, even if that wasn’t the intention, it’s time to reconsider the rules.