Why isn’t DISD offering DP benefits? Because it can’t, spokesman says

The Dallas school district has often been at the forefront in Texas when it comes to LGBT equality.

In the mid-1990s, DISD was the first district in the state to pass a nondiscrimination policy that included sexual orientation. And as recently as 2010, DISD was the first in the state to enact a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that included both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

So, after it was widely reported earlier this week that Pflugerville ISD had become the first in the state to offer domestic partner benefits to employees, I reached out to spokesman Jon Dahlander to find out why DISD isn’t doing this. Dahlander explained that DISD can’t offer DP benefits because its health insurance is through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas’ ActiveCare program.

“Because TRS ActiveCare does not recognize same-sex couples, we cannot offer that benefit. They do recognize common law marriage for benefits, however,” Dahlander said.

“The Teacher Retirement System of Texas administers the TRS-ActiveCare benefits program for Dallas ISD.  TRS-ActiveCare covers an employee’s spouse, including a common law spouse,” Dahlander added. “The program does not cover domestic partners, therefore the district cannot offer that benefit. We’ve had TRS-ActiveCare for probably eight years or so now, as do many school districts in Texas, in large part to give employees access to lower rates because of the sheer numbers involved.”

—  John Wright

New DISD superintendent backed ENDA, opposed federal marriage amendment as Senate candidate

Mike Miles

The sole finalist to become the new superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District is a supporter of LGBT equality, according to positions he took during his unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.

Mike Miles, a former Army Ranger who currently serves as superintendent of a school district in Colorado Springs, Colo., was named the sole finalist for the DISD job on Monday. He is expected to be formally hired April 26 after a 21-day waiting period, and would begin work in July.

Last month, Resource Center Dallas sent a letter to DISD trustees urging them to keep LGBT issues in mind as they selected a new superintendent to replace Michael Hinojosa. In the last few years, DISD has enacted a fully LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy, and amended other policies to include transgender protections.

Information about Miles’ record on LGBT issues as a superintendent wasn’t immediately available. But in 2004, Miles ran for U.S. Senate as a Democrat in Colorado, losing in the primary to Ken Salazar, who eventually won the seat. According to excerpts taken from Miles’ campaign website in 2004, he supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — which would ban anti-gay job bias — and opposed a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

—  John Wright

Resource Center calls on DISD to pick new leader versed in LGBT issues, do more for gay parents

Cece Cox

Resource Center Dallas is calling on DISD trustees to keep LGBT issues squarely in mind as they select a new superintendent. In a letter sent to all nine school board members today, RCD Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox notes that the district recently adopted fully LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying and non-discrimination policies. But Cox adds that while the district may be ahead of most in Texas when it comes to these things, “far too often, there is a gap between policy and practice.”

“Additionally, I encourage the district to do more to reach out to LGBT couples who have children,” Cox writes. “According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are roughly 6,700 LGB couples in Dallas County, and around one in four of them are raising children. The superintendent should lead district efforts to reach out to these LGBT families so that they are welcomed and included in DISD schools.”

As an exclamation point, Cox mentions this week’s settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin school district, suggesting that DISD is legally obligated to enforce the anti-bullying policy and support LGBT students.

Read Cox’s full letter after the jump.

—  John Wright

LGBT advocates give DISD an ‘F’ on implementing anti-bullying policy

Cox, Narvaez say some administrators are telling employees not to use online reporting system

DISD

CALLING OUT DISD | Cece Cox with Resource Center Dallas and Omar Narvaez with Lambda Legal this week urged DISD board members to force employees to step up implementation of the district’s anti-bullying policy. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Resource Center Dallas Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox this week accused Dallas Independent School District officials of instructing principals to ignore the reporting requirement in the school district’s anti-bullying policy.

Speaking at a DISD board meeting Thursday morning, Dec. 1, Cox called board members that adopted the policy visionary, but gave the district a grade of “F” in implementing the policy.

Lambda Legal Community Educator Omar Narvaez also spoke at the Dec. 1 board meeting.
DISD passed the anti-bullying policy in November 2010, soon after a string of teens across the country committed suicide after having been repeatedly bullied at school. The Dallas policy was implemented more than six months before the Texas Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Perry signed a new statewide anti-bullying law.

Narvaez said that the Dallas policy was cited repeatedly in Austin as the anti-bullying bill made its way through the Legislature.

But he said that a year after the Dallas policy was adopted, only about a third of principals have been trained on the computer-based reporting system, that most schools do not have the system in place and even more do not know how to use it.

Narvaez urged DISD to step up its implementation.

Cox said that many schools only sporadically adhere to key provisions of the policy —  enforcement and reporting.

A year after adopting the policy, Cox said, “I’m sorry to report the wheels have fallen off. Your grade is ‘F.’”

She said that there was a deliberate attempt by some DISD administrators to stop the implementation of the anti-bullying policy. “My agency has received reports from [DISD] employees,” Cox said.

“They have been told not to use the online reporting system.”

She warned the board of the serious consequences of ignoring bullying in schools: “You will have blood on your hands.”

Narvaez also praised the policy that passed unanimously a year ago, noting that it is being used as “a blueprint across the state.”

But, he added, two-thirds of DISD principals still need to be trained on the reporting system.

“It’s time we forget about politics,” he said.

Narvaez told the board several stories of DISD students having been bullied for a variety of reasons beyond sexual orientation and reminded them that the policy would keep all students safer.

Narvaez said that while some administrators fear that repeated reports of bullying would be counted against a school, instead, schools with the highest rates of reporting should be seen as having principals doing their jobs diligently and that schools that don’t report incidents of bullying should be seen as having principals ignoring the problem.

After the two spoke during the brief public comments section of the board meeting, DISD trustee Nancy Bingham spoke privately with Cox. Bingham, an early supporter of the anti-bullying policy, said the board would be getting a briefing.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

FEEDBACK: Valuing our human infrastructure

Valuing our human infrastructure

For years, politicians have talked about the under-funded public infrastructure like highways, water lines, sewer systems and basic transportation.

There is another infrastructure that is being under-funded in this city and state in particular: our “human infrastructure.”

In educational terms, we are regressing.

When I was growing up, my school district supplied the basics for a well-rounded education. I took what I learned and then expanded my knowledge at my local county-funded library, and went on to graduate with honors at Angelo State University.

Today’s children receive a poorer quality education because Texas no longer properly funds public schools K-12, and our public libraries are being starved of resources. A university education that cost me $4 a credit hour has now increased 10 times or more since I went to school.

While libraries are being destroyed by budget cuts, the need for a strong library is greater than ever. The population that our schools serve face greater challenges since so many come from homes where English is not the first language in the home.

Despite this challenge for children and adults, ESL class funding has been slashed. Dallas Independent School District has a 50 percent dropout rate, and GED class funding has been slashed.

The state of Texas has eliminated funding for the online databases for K-12 and DISD has reduced the number of school librarians.

Each of these reductions by other government agencies has increased the demand by citizens of Dallas and other Texas cities to use public libraries; however, the city of Dallas has reduced our library spending by approximately 40 percent over the last three budget years.

We would be lucky were our library merely “decimated,” i.e. reduced by a tenth. We now spend less money per capita on libraries than Fort Worth, Austin, Houston or San Antonio. Despite this lack of funding, demand at Dallas Public Libraries has increased.

In the 2006 bond program, the voters approved approximately $60 million in funding for eight new or replacement libraries; unfortunately, those buildings are now short staffed and short of materials.

Each branch except for Hampton Illinois has only a branch manager for 2 ½ days a week since the branch managers cover two branches. The branch manager for North Oak Cliff also is responsible for West Dallas. By dividing their time, they barely have time to manage their branch, let alone get to know their neighborhoods.

Many branches no longer have children’s librarians even though it is critical to encourage children to love reading if they hope to succeed in life. Texas prisons are filled with men who read at a fourth grade level.

Our city is filled with unemployed men and women who lack the necessary job skills to compete in our global economy. If we do not invest in our children, our future as a community is doomed to failure.

It does not matter how much money we give in tax breaks if our citizens cannot read the English language. Companies may locate here but employ suburbanites who have better funded schools and libraries.

The choice is clear: Either we as a city invest in our library system, our cultural institutions where children and adults learn, or we are known as a city with beautiful monuments and a high unemployment rate.

If you want to change this situation, I would encourage you to contact your City Council member and the mayor of Dallas.  The proposed budget can still be changed. If you would like to help improve the Dallas Public Library System, you can join the Friends of the Dallas Public Library or your local branch Friends Group. If your branch does not have a Friends group, I can help you start a group.

Stan Aten, president, Hampton Illinois/Oak Lawn Library Friends

………………………………….

Republicans won’t help economy

Why did the president of Dallas chapter of Log Cabin Republicans give no evidence in his commentary (“Why I will vote Republican in 2012,” Dallas Voice, Sept. 2) as to why the GOP will help your pocketbook?

He couldn’t. They won’t. They never have.

Take stocks, the way many generate retirement, as well as current income:

DJIA up 223 percent during Clinton’s eight years, down 25 percent during the George W. Bush eight-year reign of error, and up only 46 percent during his daddy’s four-year term.

Jobs? More than 11 percent increase annualized during the Clinton presidency, under 1 percent when George W. Bush was in the White House.
How do I know the above information? I googled it.

Don’t be misled by Republicans who talk about being better on pocketbook issues. You only have to check with Google to know the Democrats have consistently done better.

Dave Gershner, Dallas
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Is Schlein nuts?

In re: “Why I will vote Republican in 2012,” Dallas Voice, Sept. 2, by Rob Schlein.

Is this guy nuts? Bring back “don’t ask, don’t tell?” A federal defense of straight only marriage amendment? America got it wrong in 2008?
Hundreds of millions of Americans think not.

Can we not be trusted to vote intelligently? How about we all do away with votes and have a permanent Republican government and bring back President Bush to save us from the recession he caused.

What kind of gay man would dare show his face and tell us to vote for the most homophobic party in politics? He must be very stupid, or on the GOP payroll.

Nathaniel Ash, via the Internet
………………………………….

Flawed premise

Rob Schlein’s article about why he will vote Republican (“Why I will vote Republican in 2012,” Dallas Voice, Sept. 2) reminds me of the argument that many slaves were better off in bondage than they were after they were freed.

No level of economic privilege can compensate for the loss of basic civil rights. I will not live as a second-class citizen and hide in the closet, even if it buys me a nicer car and gets me a higher paying job.

Even if I accepted Mr. Schlein’s premise that voting Republican would lead to higher economic opportunities for the average person — which I don’t — the price is still too high. That’s why I will vote Democrat, no matter who is running. And I hope you will too.

Mark Swaim, Dallas

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Death • 09.02.11

Marcelino Aguirre Martinez Jr., 64, longtime resident of Dallas, died Aug. 25 in Dallas.

Born in Eden, Texas on Feb. 5, 1947, Martinez began his teaching career in San Angelo after graduating from Angelo State University. He retired in 1999 from Dallas Independent School District. Martinez gave his heart to his students through his creativity and dedication.

He was an avid collector of flamingos, crowns and angels and was a cherished brother, uncle and friend. He loved, and was loved, by his family and friends.

Martinez was preceded in death by his parents, Marcelino Sr. and Juanita Martinez; and by his brothers, Ben Martinez and Alex Rodriguez.

Martinez is survived by his sisters and brothers-in-law, Olivia Reyes, Amelia Lopez and husband Adolfo, Candy Lara and husband Tom, Angel Alvarado and husband Leonard, Vicki Rosas and husband Armando Sr., and Margaret Gonzales and husband Edwin; by his brothers and sisters-in-law, Joe Martinez and wife Josie, Danny Martinez and wife Estella, Gilbert Juarez and wife Lurdes; and by numerous nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, great-great-nieces and great-great-nephews.

A memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 3, at Johnson’s Funeral Home, 435 W. Beauregard, in San Angelo.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

DISD adds trans protections

Rafael McDonnell

Board votes to include gender identity and expression in harassment, retaliation and discrimination policies

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Dallas Independent School District added protections for students based on gender identity and expression during its regular board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 25.

The six items expanding protection were initially part of the consent agenda. The items were pulled from the consent before the meeting for a separate vote and then all but two later returned to the consent agenda and passed unanimously.

Only one speaker addressed the issue in the comment period before the vote.

After talking about having been bullied in school, Omar Jimenez told the board, “Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.”

The vote was delayed several hours by a discussion on redistricting of board trustee districts.

Two items initially on the consent agenda were held because they related to teacher contracts, with no controversy involving the gender identity protections that were included.

The discussion and vote on those items came after press time and will be reported on line.

The new policies relate to discrimination, retaliation and harassment by faculty and staff against students and against other faculty and staff.

Two weeks ago, the board discussed the entries on this week’s consent agenda. Rafael McDonnell, strategic communications and programs manager for Resource Center Dallas, attended the meeting and said they were reviewed with little discussion and no dissent.

Last fall, board members discussed gender identity and expression during the debate on the comprehensive new anti-bullying policy.

“We did a good job of educating them on the topic then,” McDonnell said.

He said these changes brought the harassment, retaliation and discrimination policies in line with the policies passed to combat bullying.

“They wanted to make the language match the anti-bullying policy,” McDonnell said.

The only questions asked were about a provision on genetic information required by the federal government.

Federal law requires genetic privacy. The law was passed to protect people from insurance companies requiring disclosure of genetic testing to find predisposition to certain diseases.

But it also protects a transgender person from having an employer release genetic information about his or her birth gender that might differ from presentation.

DISD became the third school district in Texas to include gender identity and expression in its harassment policies after Houston and Fort Worth ISDs. McDonnell said other districts were waiting to hear what changes in policy the legislature would require in the session that ended in May.

He suggested those districts look at the DISD policy, which he called the most comprehensive in protecting students, faculty and staff.

“Now the focus is how the policy is being used,” McDonnell said. “Are the students protected?”

McDonnell also said that he participated in a training session with DISD security officers. The session was lively with a lot of questions, he said, which he believes means they are serious about stopping bullying and harassment in Dallas schools.

When Dallas schools opened this week, all students were given a code of conduct that contains the new anti-bullying policy. Each student had to return a signed form that they read and understood the policy.

The anti-bullying bill that was passed by the Legislature in the spring goes into effect on Sept. 1. In Dallas, the policies are already in place.

—  John Wright

DISD to quietly add trans protections Thursday

The latest DISD policy changes haven’t generated the media hype that an anti-bullying policy did last fall, when news crews surrounded Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell outside a board meeting.

A few weeks ago we reported that the Dallas school board is considering a series of policy changes designed to protect transgender students and employees against discrimination and harassment.

Well, it looks like the changes — in the form of amendments to six separate DISD policies — are on now the board’s Consent Agenda for its regular meeting this Thursday, meaning there’s no opposition and they’re expected to be approved without discussion.

The DISD board went over the changes during a briefing session two weeks ago.

“There was actually very little discussion of it at all,” said Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell, who attended the briefing session. “There was more time talking about the addition of ‘genetic information,’ which is a federal requirement, than there was about adding gender identity or gender expression.

“I think in this case it shows the trustees remember the discussion we had last fall when the bullying policy was passed,” McDonnell said. “They were already familiar with the concept of gender identity and expression.”

McDonnell said DISD will become the third district in the state to ban discrimination and harassment based on gender identity and expression.

“I think this is an incredibly positive step for DISD,” he said. “We’d love to see other districts follow in the footsteps of Fort Worth ISD, Houston ISD and DISD.”

Thursday’s meeting is at 5:30 p.m. at DISD headquarters, 3700 Ross Ave.

—  John Wright

A long road still lies ahead in the fight for equality

Pride Month celebrates our accomplishments, but an East Texas funeral service reminds us that we have a long way to go

Rafael_McDonnellRAFAEL McDONNELL | Special Contributor

This is national Gay Pride Month. In the 40-plus years since 1969 and the Stonewall Rebellion, there have been significant changes for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and it’s important to celebrate our accomplishments.

Take a look at what has happened in the last year:

The federal government took the first steps toward repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which bans open military service by gays and lesbians. Federal officials also unveiled new guidelines on how hospitals should deal with LGBT patients and their families.

Closer to home, DFW International Airport and Dallas County added policies to protect their LGBT employees from employment discrimination, and Dallas ISD adopted a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that protects all students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

I’m happy to say Resource Center Dallas played key roles in these local accomplishments.

In addition, public attitudes are changing. A Gallup poll released last month shows more than half the people surveyed now find gay and lesbian relationships, in the words of the survey, “morally acceptable.” The poll also showed half the people surveyed support marriage equality; up from 26 percent in 1996.

Much of this growth is attributed to people under the age of 35, and a change of attitude among men.

With all of these positive developments, we could become complacent. We could think the heavy work is done. At times, I’ve allowed myself to fall into this self-congratulatory trap.

Then I hear a story, as I did over Memorial Day weekend, which jars me back to the reality that our lives are precarious. It reminded me that there are far too many hearts and souls whose attitudes toward us have not changed.

At a funeral for a gay acquaintance of mine in East Texas, the minister delivered an anti-gay message from the pulpit, as did a relative of the deceased. In fact, the relative said he did not accept his brother’s sexual orientation in life, and wouldn’t in death.

Think about that for a minute. Can you imagine what the LGBT friends of the deceased must have felt, hearing those words in that setting?

This happened in 2011, a short drive from Dallas/Fort Worth. It stunned me, and reminded me of several recent events that together show the path for full inclusion remains bumpy.

When a state representative tries to eliminate funding for LGBT resource centers on Texas public college campuses, we have a long way to go. When a state senator attempts to restrict the rights of transgender Texans to marry, we have a long way to go.

When criminals target people because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, we have a long way to go. When LGBT people can still be fired from their jobs because of who they are or who they love, we have a long way to go.

When there are laws labeling our relationships and partnerships as less than legal and equal, we have a long way to go. When LGBT seniors face discrimination in long-term care facilities, we have a long way to go.

When we are treated unequally under federal programs like Social Security and Medicaid, we have a long way to go.

This is not meant to be a bucket of cold water on a festive, celebratory time. We’ve shown over and over again in the years since Stonewall that we have created communities, forged alliances and literally moved mountains to affect positive change for the LGBT community. We’ve rallied over the people we’ve lost and the temporary setbacks dropped in our path by lawmakers.

Rather, I think we should use Pride Month as an opportunity to look forward as well as back. Our pride in being who we are, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, isn’t limited to 30 days every year, or a parade in the early fall. It’s pride in how we live our lives and how we work to fulfill the promise of equality for those who come after us.

Remember, this promise of equality is — for us — only a theoretical promise. To achieve equality, much more needs to be done, and each one of us must play a part.

Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager for Resource Center Dallas and a former broadcast journalist. Email him at rmcdonnell@rcdallas.org.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Seagoville student endures classroom beatdown — as teacher watches

As the Texas Legislature continues to stall in taking action on the numerous anti-bullying bills introduced this session, this story posted Monday on WFAA.com proves once again that our children really aren’t safe in school — sometimes even when there is a teacher standing right by them.

Michael Milczanowksi

WFAA.com reports that Seagoville High School sophomore Michael Milczanowksi was attacked and beaten up by a fellow student in his geometry class as the teacher, who isn’t identified, stands by and watches without even trying to intervene. At least not physically. Other students videotaped the attack as it happened, and you can watch that video below.

Dallas Independent School District officials have said the incident is being investigated, but the teacher’s union is supporting the teacher. Alliance/AFT representative Rena Honeo told WFAA: “Teachers have intervened in the past. They have been injured. They have not been able to return to work. They have been reprimanded for intervening. So there is a huge question mark as to what’s truly appropriate.”

Meanwhile Michael Milczanowksi has left Seagoville High. The report doesn’t say if he is going to school somewhere else. The report also doesn’t say why the student attacked Michael, who said he had felt threatened at school for some time, and it doesn’t mention bullying, either.

I am not saying this has anything to do with LGBT issues in any way, shape or form. But I think this is obviously about one student being bullied — physically bullied — and about a teacher standing by and letting it happen. If this isn’t proof enough for lawmakers that we need some kind of legislation to protect our children, then I don’t know what it would take.

—  admin