“Solutions to this issue abound and are readily available to all. None of them involve the immediate termination of a district superintendent who has proven to be a more-than-adequate administrator and leader.
School Daze – I just can’t let this lay!
One District Superintendent fired. 5 Ellensburg school board members in a fix. One subcommittee determining policy for a school district. The public is in a quandary. $150,000 or so out the door for every year that a new superintendent is not hired. Boggles the mind, really, that one. Someone, please give me a job where I can make 150 large for not showing up. I’ll do it for 75!
Why? Why the instant dismissal of Dr. Paul Farris, a man who had been a successful and well respected District Superintendent for the last 18 years, terminated with no warnings, no discussion, no public input, no process at all other than the process required to declare someone so incompetent to perform the job for which they were hired that they deserved immediate dismissal? The answer is hidden inside the guaranteed privacy of personnel issues, but the truth can be derived.
This is a small community, and bits of the truth are emerging in dribs and drabs. Was the Superintendent fired because he did not “share the vision” of the Ellensburg school board, as the ESD 104 website says (http://www.esd401.org/community/superintendents-page)? Maybe he couldn’t persuade the larger community into supporting various district agendas – another reason ticking away in the undergrowth of rumors. Maybe it was because he refused to reach out to parents in order to re-establish a meaningful District/parent relationship. Heard that one, too. Or maybe it was because he balked at implementing the latest ESD401 directives on how to handle students who had trouble identifying with their birth gender.
The manner in which the dismissal went down remains a mystery, the video minutes of the April 4 School Board meeting in which Dr. Farris was fired is not available on the ESD 401 web site. Some say that a committee declared their non-confidence in Dr. Farris, and the School Board acted on their recommendation. While it is true that personnel issues are exempt from public discovery, it is also customary to first announce that the board is going into executive session, go into session and then after the session is closed to inform the public of the results of that executive session. Media blackouts are awfully suspicious nowadays.
But it is logical to assume that, absent any criminal malfeasance, and given that the gender identity issue is hot right now, that he did not agree with the School Board’s implementation of a document known as Procedure 3211P – Transgendered Students.
Let’s get some basic facts out here.
Fact. A person’s gender is now considered fluid and it is their personal decision on how they want to present themselves to the world. If you disagree with that, too bad, truth or not, fad or not, it is a fact of modern life and it is not going away.
Fact. A school district, even here in quaint little Ellensburg is going to be confronted with a person who does not identify with their birth gender sooner or later. It’s more than an excuse to sneak into the girl’s or boy’s locker room for a quick preview of the world to come. Got that on the internet already, folks. To address upcoming school issues, school boards generally look to other districts that may have experienced this kind of thing for guidance. The Ellensburg School District board went to the ESD 401 policies (http://www.esd401.org/) and found their solution in the document mentioned above.
Fact. A politically progressive school board will tend to adopt policies that seem out of touch with a rural agrarian community like the portion of Kittitas County included within the district’s borders.
Fact. People react with confusion and fear of things that they do not understand.
Fact. No one, despite all the national conversations surrounding ‘alternative sexual affiliations’ deserves to be denied access to the benefits of being an American citizen. Kids, especially in that bizarre hormone-charged period of time between early teendom and the time they reach their majority, may need a little extra understanding and accommodation. We OK on that one?
Fact. Schools, especially from middle school upwards, are presented with a wide range of behavioral issues and as such, need to have policies to cover everything from weapons possession to bullying to sexual issues. By default, they are uniquely positioned to ‘educate’ students in areas other than the three R’s.
Fact. Expression of gender is not a sexual act – the traditional trigger point where morality begins for people who are not legally adults. After all, the age of consent is 16 delicate years here in the enlightened state of Washington.
So what is the response to the obvious fact that public schools are often confronted with both the positive and negative by-products of parenting, economic status, pop culture, and social constructs? Better yet, let’s pose a basic question?
Does a school district have the right or the responsibility to foment and enforce policies that are outside the social norm in the communities they represent?
The answer is, unfortunately, yes, but not for the reason you may suspect. School boards are elected, and as in any other representative form of government, you ‘get the government you deserve’. Philosophy should not determine how we manage cultural differences within the setting of a public school. Unless they grow fur and a tail, we should be treating students like human beings, not like hockey pucks batted about in the hard ice of public policy.
Correction here, we are more likely to treat things with fur and a tail better than we treat most human beings.
That aside, the real and understandable fear for some people is this: How do we prevent either casual (silly punk-based) or sexually predatory excursions into the spaces we have traditionally set aside as gender exclusive places where a student can dress and undress? The threat is real, the fear is real, and the School District has been remarkably ham-handed in their approach to addressing those concerns, preferring to defer to cheesy theatrics and personal demonization instead of being the kind of inclusive, co-operative people they profess to be. In their actions, they showed an almost willful inability to set aside personal philosophical differences in order to establish policies that satisfy the concerns of various groups in the community.
Solutions to this issue abound, and are readily available to all, and guess what?
None of them involve the immediate termination of a district superintendent who in the past has proven to be more-than-adequate administrator and leader.
The guidelines in the document referenced above include the provision for private dressing rooms or stalls and alternative dressing and gearing up times to minimize the possibility of visual or physical contact. Though not mentioned a school could presumably establish locker room monitors to prevent unnecessary or immoral contact between known, gender non-conforming students and heterosexual students. The presence of monitors would prevent sexual predation since gender non-conforming students are required to self-identify to the school administration in order to gain any protection or use of any facility or program they might otherwise be denied. The administration, and presumably every student on a school campus already know who the gender non-conforming students are.
But ultimately the lesson is this: Individual private action to resolve your concerns are always preferable to public actions. IF you don’t want your kid exposed to the possibility of sexual predation in locker rooms, have them change at home. Don’t use the facilities that present the danger. Other than possibly football, you have to buy most of the sports kit anyway and you probably wash it at home, too.
If you do not like the composition of your school board, run people for the office who represent your belief systems. Get off your butt and vote, or compete for the position. It’s a crappy and thankless job but someone has to do it. You will find your own reward in public service.
If someone with male paraphernalia walks into the girl’s locker room every woman present should scream “Rape!”. If a girl sporting girl accouterments walks into the boy’s locker room – well, I have no solution for that one. Most guys don’t care all that much. Harassment guideline here: DO NOT LAUGH!
There are solutions:
Get together with your social/church clubs and talk about ways to respond to incursions. Involve your kids. Talk to them. They know much more than you think they do already. Pastors – get together and talk among yourselves about the leadership positions you should be taking in the larger community.
There are alternatives: Homeschooling is vigorously supported in Washington State. There are private schools that may share your brand of morality.
And ultimately you should recognize that petitioning government to solve your personal ideological issues will NOT get you the results that you desire. Remember the phrase ‘personal accountability’? It is and should remain, an inviolable conservative mantra, not a catchword or a message on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker.