Molalla teachers stand up for LGBTQ students, staff
Warning: This story contains language of a sexual nature that some may find offensive
At Molalla River School District's October meeting, the board adopted a proclamation to declare November as "Parents Partnership in Education Month." But because the proclamation came from an apparent anti-LGBTQ group, a great number of teachers and community members showed up to the November meeting to ask the board to rescind the proclamation.
Board Chair Linda Eskridge had presented the proclamation to fellow board members in October, acknowledging it came from a group called 'Parents Rights in Education.'
Board member Jennifer Satter expressed a sincere lack of support for the seemingly innocuous proclamation because the group behind it, Parents Rights in Education, uses language that is "against LGBTQ and sexual orientations that they don't agree with," she said.
However, the board members who were present (which excluded Calvin Nunn) passed the proclamation on its own regardless of the group it came from.
Bringing up the group's proclamation was not Eskridge's first dealing with PRIE. In June 2018, PRIE published a story about the establishment of a gay-straight alliance at Molalla River Middle School called the Equality Club.
The story says, "Molalla School Board Member, Linda Eskridge has concern about the establishment of the club promoting sex by minors."
The story quotes Eskridge directly as saying, "'I am extremely concerned and stressed that you (Tony Mann, superintendent) would allow this club to start at a middle school. This is nothing more than child abuse. You use the false narrative talking points stating how this will make students feel "safe and wanted." You fail to recognize other students have been taught that sodomy is not a safe lifestyle.'"
The PRIE story also calls LGBTQ groups "expert bullies," claiming, "Other students who do not believe rectal and oral sex are a healthy lifestyle, will be called homophobes. So much for tolerance!"
Teachers Speak Up
A month after the board passed the proclamation, many teachers went to the November board meeting on Thursday, Nov. 14, showing they opposed the proclamation and defending the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ students and staff.
One public commenter, Nicole Higginbotham, spoke on behalf of her sister Michelle Lowe, who is the counselor at Molalla River Middle School and adviser for the Equality Club. In the statement, Lowe attempted to clear up any confusion over what goes on at the club meetings as she addressed Eskridge directly.
"Your statements imply that gay-straight alliances are about students discussing gay sex instead of what they really are—a place to connect with other students and be accepted for who they are whether they identify as gay or straight," Lowe's statement said.
When Eskridge, as the chair, cut Higginbotham off because she exceeded the 3-minute time limit, district teacher Trisha Claxton signed up to comment and later read aloud the ending of Lowe's statement.
The Molalla River Education Association President Jeff Claxton too made a pointed statement during the meeting.
"Our issue is that the proclamation originates from an anti-LGBTQ organization," Claxton said to the board during the public comment portion of the meeting. "This group feels that there's an inappropriate agenda being pushed on students by public schools, and that among other things, schools should not be teaching LGBTQ topics.
"Passing this proclamation is equivalent to the board supporting the group's ideas and goals, thus creating an unsafe, unwelcoming place to work and learn for everyone," he said. "This action creates the antithesis of what schools should be. Schools need to be a safe place where people feel comfortable expressing who they are. We only learn our best, teach our best and do our best in a supportive environment."
Claxton then proceeded to ask the board on behalf of MREA to rescind the proclamation on the basis that the board violated contract, state law and board policy regarding discrimination.
An attorney for Pacific Justice Institute, Ray Hacke, also took a chance at the microphone, advocating for parents' rights and admonishing teachers to "learn [their] place or be put in it."
"Parents are partners in education," Hacke said. "And teachers, I hate to say this, you seem to have forgotten that...You seem to have taken this arrogant attitude that you know better than the parents what they should be taught than they do. It is because of this that parents are pulling their children out of public schools."
In all, nine people offered public comments, most of whom were district teachers, staff members or speakers on behalf of a staff member.
Breeauna Sagdal, a Molalla community member who is running for a seat on the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, expressed her support for the board.
In a press release prior to the meeting, Sagdal said, "Frankly, the union doesn't have an interest here, and needs to rededicate itself to the core mission of creating the best educational outcome for Oregon's students."
Teachers though, contended at the meeting that rescinding the proclamation is a step toward providing the best possible educational experience for students.
Molalla High School language arts teacher Hayley Zeal noted to the board that student safety is her first priority and that administrators measure her on that.
"If you send the message to students that they are less than human, that you would rather support a group that calls schools 'morally toxic,' you are sending a message to them that they are less than human," Zeal said. "…As part of the district leadership team here, we look at special strands of students, our most vulnerable populations, and we try to find strategic ways to bring them up. There are districts that would spend millions of dollars to do that. You've created a barrier by doing this.
"I really, really hope that you consider these comments," Zeal said, "and you show the students and the staff here that you support us as a full group, that you see all of your students as fully human."
When public comments ended, the board decided to add proclamation discussion to the night's agenda. Each of the board members who were in attendance took the opportunity to speak. Board members Ralph Gierke and Neal Lucht were absent.
Eskridge expressed a level of comfort with the gay friends she had growing up, but said the problem is "it's being pushed on our kindergarten kids."
"We're teaching sex education to children that don't even have any concept of what sex is about, so why are we saying that anal sex is as normal as holding hands? This is the impression I'm getting," Eskridge said. "I shouldn't go there, but it's just the impression I'm getting."
Eskridge concluded by saying, "I think our education should focus on reading, writing and arithmetic; and sexual education should come from the parent."
Satter reiterated her stance in opposition of the proclamation and read aloud a letter she had sent to board members prior to the meeting, pleading with them to consider how their actions affect students.
"No matter what the issue is, students should never feel that the board is against them in any way," she said.
Nunn, who was not present at the meeting when the proclamation passed, said he sided with Satter, but expressed a desire to somehow recognize the role of parents in education.
Because Satter voted against the proclamation and because Nunn was not present when it passed, procedurally, neither of them could make a motion to rescind the proclamation, Nunn noted.
Board members Craig Loughridge and Mark Lucht too expressed a desire to recognize the role of parents in education and not make the conversation about PRIE.
"If I don't have a suggested alternative, there's no way that I would vote to rescind it," Loughridge said to the crowd. "So, I just want to make that clear that I believe in the parents. I believe in parents' rights to be involved in their children's education. And If you also believe in that but you think this isn't the proclamation, then put forth an alternative or be quiet."
Ultimately, the board decided to table it until the following meeting, which takes place in the board room at the district office on Nov. 21. At 7 p.m.
Later in the Nov. 14 meeting and again the next day in a letter to all staff, Superintendent Mann declared his commitment to all students.
"I will tell you we're never going to be doing enough, arguably, until the experience of LGBTQ students matches what might be the experience of other kids," Mann said at the meeting. "We know that statistically students who identify LGBTQ+ are 17 percent more likely to take their own life between age 10 and age 24. That's not a school problem to fix. That's not a healthcare problem to fix. That's not a parent problem to fix. That's an us problem to fix."
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