Superintendents, principals receive sensitivity training after group raises concerns about anti-gay discrimination
It’s amazing what a difference four people can make.
Thanks to the efforts of a newly formed citizens committee, area superintendents and principals in the Dallas Independent School District are receiving basic training on LGBT issues for the first time in recent memory if not ever.
Even the four founding members of the LGBTAQ Educational Coalition Kristine Vowels, Bob Ivancic, Dennis Coleman and Jay Forte say they are surprised at the progress they’ve made.
“We’re shocked that it’s gone so well so fast,” said Forte, a Plano business owner.
But coalition members also agree there’s much work still to be done.
The coalition was formed amid concerns that DISD’s 16-year-old policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation is not being properly implemented. Members say anti-LGBT discrimination is widespread in the district, and they cite a complete lapse in staff training on the issue over the last four years.
After meeting in mid-March with Steve Flores, DISD’s chief administrative officer for school support services, committee members have been allowed to make two separate 30-minute presentations to the district’s seven area superintendents and about 38 principals from Area II. Since then, two more of the superintendents have requested presentations for principals in their areas.
“That definitely indicates to me that there’s a desire out there for information and training,” said Coleman, director of Lambda Legal’s South Central Region.
“I’ve been blown away by the response to this.”
But coalition members also say the presentations fall short of formal training, which they say needs to be conducted not just for administrators and principals but for all DISD employees.
“If we’re going to do some training, we need several hours,” said Ivancic, co-founder of Youth First Texas. “It’s more just raising the awareness that there’s an issue here. I would not consider anybody really equipped to go out and work with GLBT youth and deal with staff after half an hour.
“From what we hear from the youth, they get harassed by the security guards and lunch people. It’s not just teachers. Everyone needs to be trained.”
Coalition members now plan to meet with Flores again, and their primary recommendation will be that the district hire a full-time director of LGBT initiatives. The director would not only facilitate training but also act as a liaison for employees and students when issues arise.
“If that happens, I think the rest will fall into place,” Ivancic said.
Flores said Wednesday, April 18, that before creating a new position, the district must determine whether it can handle the issue with existing staff.
While the administration could make a recommendation, the decision to fund a director of LGBT initiatives ultimately would have to be signed off on by the district’s board of trustees.
“If that is necessary to address the situation, we have to take that seriously into consideration,” Flores said.
He added that since he first met with the coalition, district officials have developed an action plan. The plan includes an article with information about reporting harassment in an upcoming issue of the Communicator, a weekly publication for employees, as well as covering LGBT issues as part of training for principals on the student handbook this summer.
Flores, who sat in on one of the coalition’s presentations, said he believes they have been helpful. “I think it’s something that makes us even more mindful of the things we need to do,” he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 20, 2007.