Action by students in Mountain View High School’s Gay Straight Alliance have brought about the alignment of the school’s health curriculum with state standards for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer identity education.
The Oregon Department of Education’s health standards and benchmarks state schools will teach students how to “differentiate between biological sex, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.” At Mountain View, students in the GSA objected to the absence of any such content in the school’s health curriculum.
“We were interviewed for a story in The Source about LGBTQ issues, and after being asked what was taught at our school, we realized that the answer was nothing,” said Devon Hulick, 18, a senior and president of the alliance. “We next looked into whether or not it was required, and then we found that there was something in the state’s health curriculum. There’s the misconception that we wanted this to be part of sex ed, but it’s not that, it’s just about terms and identity.”
Hulick said the inclusion of gender identity education would help support another of the state curriculum objectives, namely “to advocate for school policies and programs that promote dignity and respect for all.”
“I think most students are just uninformed on the issues,” Hulick said. “Some kids are explicitly against us, but most are just not aware of a lot of things. I think this change will help that majority of kids with little exposure.”
“I had to read an essay I wrote about LGBTQ issues, and all I got was blank faces in the classroom. No one could follow what I was saying,” said Betsy Grimes, vice president of the GSA. “We’ve changed the curriculum, and I hope it will help.”
Grimes and Hulick said Mountain View’s GSA has been the target of harassment, including the tearing down of meeting posters. Once, students found an illustration of what they thought to be a Ku Klux Klan figure on a poster. Assistant Principal Scott Olszewski, who Hulick credited with facilitating the curriculum change, said the figure was “impossible to clearly identify, but may have been a Grim Reaper.”
“A lack of respect for anyone is unacceptable at Mountain View,” Olszewski said. “When something like that happens, we address it swiftly and send a strong message that we don’t expect only tolerance of differences but that we expect respect. And I think tolerance and respect are very different things.”
While Olszewski credited the GSA with “speeding up the process” of including LGBTQ education in the curriculum, he also said the group’s efforts coincided with an internal review of the school’s adherence to state standards.
“As you’ll see in any school, there are gaps between standards and what is being taught, and we were in the process of re-evaluating the standards we were teaching to,” Olszewski said. “We were teaching some aspects about sexual orientation, but it’s true we were not going as far as we could. I can’t say why that was the case, but I’m glad to say it has been addressed.”
Despite the poster incidents, Olszewski said he believes Mountain View is promoting a culture of respect, pointing toward the surging membership of the Gay Straight Alliance.
“Our membership is around 40, which is a big change from years before,” Grimes said. “We’re leaving a foundation for when we graduate, and we’ve shown that sometimes kids can actually change their schools for the better.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, email@example.com