HomeBlocksFront-SliderGUSD in Crossfire on LGBTQ Content

GUSD in Crossfire on LGBTQ Content

First published in the May 14 print issue of the Glendale News Press.

The Glendale Unified School District has found itself among the latest targets of the classroom culture war on teachings related to LGBTQ topics and history within social studies, which has spurred parents and educators into making, at times, heated demands to the school board and demonstrating outside of the administrative building.
The debate has generated a substantial amount of public comment at the past two board of education meetings, much of it concerned with one teacher who was reassigned out of her classroom after telling the district she was receiving threats over a lesson she gave a year ago. School board members have broadly defended the district against claims it is allowing inappropriate content to be taught in the district’s classrooms, while also stressing the need for a respectful dialogue among all parties.
The saga garnered prominent coverage this week by the Los Angeles Times and has also been picked up by right-wing outlets such as the Daily Caller.
“Know that we continue to be resolute in our commitment to provide all students an education that prepares them for success in college, career and life. It’s not new for Glendale Unified to embrace our diverse student population or create an inclusive and supportive environment for all of our students. We’re committed to supporting our students in their academic goals and civic aspirations and activities,” Nayiri Nahabedian, the GUSD school board president, said at last week’s meeting.
“It’s important that we understand each other’s differences, be mindful of how our words and actions might affect others and notice, also, where we share values and where we have common ground and work together to build a stronger Glendale Unified community,” she added.
Before last week’s meeting began, a large crowd of teachers, parents, students and other community members rallied outside of the administrative building urging the district to support its LGBTQ students and teachers’ efforts to embrace them.
Contrasting the rally were a number of parents and at least one GUSD teacher who admonished the district for what they frequently characterized as “indoctrinating” students into a political ideology, although what that ideology is hasn’t been clearly stated.

Many students attended the demonstration in support of teachers who help them feel safe and included at their schools.

What is clear, however, is that tensions have boiled over.
“I will say that I am deeply concerned with the climate of the community, the divisiveness, the sheer stress,” board member Shant Sahakian said. “You see the stress in our parents and our families, you see it in our teachers and staff. We’ve all been through an extremely challenging situation, and I think it shows in a lot of different ways in the community right now.”
The apparent spark occurred when a number of screenshots of GUSD emails — which the district said were released via a public information request — were shared on social media recently. Several of those emails highlighted an exchange between Tammy Tiber, a 3rd-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, and a district official. Her inquiry concerned two videos that she used during a lesson last year that highlighted gay pride. A parent who was observing her daughter’s remote lesson closed her daughter’s Zoom video and texted Tiber to tell her when the lesson was finished before letting her daughter back on.
District officials largely assured Tiber that she was good to go with the videos, although noted that one video in which TV host Jessi Cruickshank holds a roundtable discussion with students about gay pride and sexual orientations might raise objections from parents.
During the video of the discussion that broaches same-sex parents and so-called gay icons, Cruickshank mentions that actress Jodie Foster made her question her own sexuality and cheekily suggests having watched a film in which Foster appears nude.
Still, Tiber was not told to remove the video and it also remains unclear whether that video was even shown last year. No complaints were registered at the time.
Tiber said that after the released emails were posted on social media in April, she began receiving harassment and threats from “a vocal minority” of people “misled into furthering a hateful agenda.” Tiber additionally raised a concern with GUSD that the lack of a parking lot at Jefferson Elementary was a potential safety risk to her.
GUSD said the approximately 1,300 released emails were provided to City Council candidate Jordan Henry, who has criticized the district for adopting curricula he derisively considers to be critical race theory.

Many students attended the demonstration in support of teachers who help them feel safe and included at their schools.

After Tiber declined the district’s offer for a leave of absence, she was transferred to a remote role supervising home-learning students. Though Tiber was upset with the transfer, the district said it was not punitive in nature. A substitute teacher was assigned to her class for the remainder of the year.
“This witch hunt against me started by Jordan Henry and the other individuals have led to me being harassed, bullied and threatened,” Tiber told the school board last week. “Since then, my life has turned upside down. My current 3rd-graders and parents were left in the dark when I was suddenly ousted from my classroom. They were robbed of their teacher for the last 33 days of school.”
Henry, in an emailed statement, confirmed that he filed the public information request for the emails in September and received them in April. He said he specifically requested emails to or from Sally Myles and Craig Lewis, specialists who helped oversee the district’s curriculum. Both ultimately weighed in on Tiber’s email.
“As a parent in Glendale with young children, I was concerned about recent changes to GUSD curriculum,” Henry said. “Upon receiving these emails, I shared the public records with a group of parents who have many unanswered public records requests similar to mine, and the emails have subsequently received attention from multiple local and national media outlets.”
Henry added that a GUSD spokeswoman has said that the videos are “not part of the district’s approved core or supplemental curriculum.”
“However, Ms. Tiber was clearly encouraged by Sally Myles and Craig Lewis to show these exact videos to her students,” Henry added. “In my opinion, it is wrong that the district has focused so much attention on Ms. Tiber. Ultimately, GUSD bears the sole responsibility for what its administrators promote to be taught in the classroom.”
Among the parents objecting to the LGBTQ teachings, some said they are supportive of the LGBTQ community while others said they are not; however, the unifying factor appears to be their belief that the lessons weren’t age appropriate. They did not offer what they considered to be an appropriate alternative.
District parent Ani Torosyan said she was concerned with “inappropriateness” and felt the lesson was “out of the scope of curriculum.”
“That is the concern here,” she told the school board. “I don’t think we should confuse it with [support of the LGBTQ community].”
Meanwhile, parent Cheryl Smidt noted that she and others were “God-fearing Christians” and simultaneously asked the district to not feed into division but also respect their belief that marriage should be heterosexual.
“It’s outrageous to know that teachers are teaching 8-year-olds about sex, sexual orientations, homosexuality and bragging about seeing nudity in movies,” she said, adding, “We teach that our children are to be pure, they are not to be fornicators and they are going to save themselves for marriage. These are innocent children and we need to preserve their innocence.”
GUSD students also spoke last week, pleading with officials to support instruction on LGBTQ issues and provide safe learning environments for LGBTQ students.
Jace Compton, who is president of the Clark Magnet High School Gay Straight Alliance, said inclusive instructional materials are essential for gay students, like herself, as they grow up.
“They are able to understand themselves and to know that they have community. They don’t feel isolated and they’re able to connect with the people around them and their history, as gay students, as young as elementary school,” Compton said. “These conversations are important for cisgender, heterosexual students, too, because those students are able to get a great understanding and respect for their peers and lead them to grow into empathic, understanding people.”
Salem Magdaleno, a nonbinary student, offered a simple request.
“Please stop playing politics with my life,” they repeated numerous times last week.
Board members offered lengthy responses before the conclusion of last week’s meeting, which acknowledged the frustration of parents but emphasized that curriculum goes through a lengthy and oftentimes public review process and there remain formal channels for complaints to be made.
“I know where the parents’ concerns are coming from,” Armina Gharpetian, school board member, said. “They have young kids. They are concerned about some of the curriculum that might be out there they may not approve or may not understand why it’s important to have, but I think through communication we can resolve a lot of these issues.”
Sahakian added, “We have to do a lot more listening and a lot more communication. Publicly blasting individual teachers and staff is not the right way to do things. Telling parents they don’t have the right to provide feedback on the education that happens in our schools is also not the right thing.”
Sahakian also explained in great detail that the FAIR Education Act enacted in 2011 largely governs the addition of content to school curricula that addresses the histories and contributions of a variety of once-marginalized social groups, including by people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community.
He added, as a comparison, that it is vital for everyone — not just Armenians — to learn about the Armenian genocide, as an example of where extreme racism leads, just as it is important for students to learn about how prejudice has historically harmed the LGBTQ community.
“Most LGBTQ kids in California experienced anti-LGBTQ victimization at school. Not at home. Not in the community. We’re just talking about what happens at school, and I don’t know how you address that without infusing that education and knowledge and empowering our students to be more respectful toward each other,” Sahakian said.
“Lessons on respect are important, but we need real world examples and experiences to provide to our students so that that learning happens and is successful. Yes, it does have to be age-appropriate, but I do believe it does need to happen in elementary, middle and high school,” he added.
Sahakian also touched on the nationwide conversation on this topic, referencing rhetoric deployed by far-right figures who have characterized LGBTQ-inclusive curricula and the instructors who teach it as “grooming” children.
“I think you would want them to be in a safe and inclusive environment, and I don’t think avoiding the topic helps make it safe or inclusive for that student or for any other students,” he said. “Calling LGBTQ an ‘ideology’ — calling it a partisan issue, calling it a choice or a lifestyle, conflating it with child abuse, pedophilia or grooming — does not make it a safer and more inclusive environment for the students, employees or the parents or families, and it creates a climate of fear, hatred and discrimination.”

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