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

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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
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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

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

EXCLUSIVE: Dallas school board to consider protections for transgender students, employees

Andy Moreno, a transgender girl, was denied an opportunity to run for homecoming queen at North Dallas High School last year.

The Dallas school board is set to consider a series of policy changes designed to protect transgender students and employees against discrimination and harassment — and to protect LGBT students against potential bullying by teachers.

Among other things, the proposed changes could prevent another controversy like the one that arose last year — when a transgender girl was denied an opportunity to run for homecoming queen at North Dallas High School.

DISD’s board of trustees is scheduled to go over the proposed changes during its briefing session this Thursday, which means they could come up for a final vote next month, according to district spokesman Jon Dahlander.

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said representatives from his organization have worked with DISD officials over the last several months to craft the proposed policy changes, which grew out of the board’s approval last year of an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy.

Many of the new changes would essentially transfer language from the anti-bullying policy into existing policies related to harassment and discrimination, some of which previously included sexual orientation but not gender identity and expression.

“The original policies did not protect the entire community,” McDonnell said. “We’ve been fortunate here at the Center to advocate for more inclusive policies, first with DART and earlier this year with Dallas County, and now with DISD. All of the community should be protected.”

—  John Wright

If you can’t read this post at school, your district may be illegally filtering LGBT content

If your school district is illegally filtering LGBT content, you probably can’t read this post — at least not from a district computer. So, you’ll just have to read it at home and take notes so you can check tomorrow when you’re at school or work. Ready?

Earlier today we posted a story from the Associated Press about how the American Civil Liberties Union is demanding that school districts stop filtering LGBT web content in violation of federal law. As the story notes, Texas is one of a handful of states where the ACLU sent letters to school districts requesting information about web filtering. We inquired of the ACLU as to which districts in Texas received requests, but we haven’t heard back. A few years ago, according to Lambda Legal, the Dallas Independent School District agreed to allow access to web sites that were blocked at the time, including those belonging to Youth First Texas and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). DallasVoice.com was also among the sites DISD had blocked.

On Tuesday we contacted Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for DISD, and sent him a copy of the press release from the ACLU. Dahlander responded by saying that he had not seen any request from the ACLU, although he added that it may have gone to the district’s technology department. He also pointed us to the district’s policy on web filtering:

Each District computer with Internet access shall have a filtering device or software that blocks access to visual depictions that are obscene, pornographic, inappropriate for students, or harmful to minors, as defined by the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act and as determined by the Superintendent of Schools or designee. Every computer shall have a filter device or software that protects against viruses.

Because the DISD policy seems open to interpretation, we asked Dahlander to check whether the following sites are accessible from DISD computers. He said he did so and confirmed that all of them are accessible:

www.dayofsilence.org
www.itgetsbetter.org
www.thetrevorproject.org
www.gsanetwork.org
www.glsen.org
www.dallasvoice.com

Note that these are the same sites, with the exception of DallasVoice.com, that the ACLU recommends checking to determine whether your district is illegally filtering LGBT content. For more, watch the video above. If any of the LGBT sites are blocked,the ACLU recommends that you check the following anti-LGBT sites to see whether they’re also blocked:

www.NARTH.com
www.peoplecanchange.com
www.pfox.org

Dahlander said the three anti-LGBT sites are also accessible from DISD computers, which is a little scary, but hey, free speech is free speech.

Still, DISD is just one of hundreds of school districts in Texas. So if you think your district may be illegally filtering LGBT content on its computers, you can fill out the ACLU’s form by going here.

—  John Wright

Spokesman says DISD too busy with budget cuts to discuss trangender homecoming issue

A rally in support of Andy Moreno at North Dallas High School in October. Since then we haven’t heard much from DISD, or the LGBT community, about trying to come up with a policy that would avoid such controversies in the future.

Here’s the reply we received late Monday from DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander, after we inquired about whether district officials have discussed a possible policy change related to gender and homecoming elections in response to last year’s controversy at North Dallas High School:

“I don’t know if there have been additional discussions regarding that particular issue. Most of our time right now is devoted to paying attention to what is taking place in Austin and planning for next year’s budget accordingly. A $253 million budget deficit would wipe out a lot of things in our school district. If I hear of something, I’ll let you know.”

We certainly sympathize with Dahlander and other DISD officials as they try to deal with the impending budget crisis, but we also hope his statement indicates that the district is open to taking up the transgender homecoming issue as soon as possible. After all, it’s been almost five months since transgender girl Andy Moreno was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen at NDHS. The district should be commended for, in the meantime, passing a fully inclusive anti-bullying policy that is the first of its kind in the state. But this doesn’t mean the district’s work — or the LGBT community’s work — is done. For one thing, we need to ensure that the anti-bullying policy is properly implemented and enforced. And for another, while the anti-bullying policy includes gender identity and expression, the district’s employment nondiscrimination policy does not. In other words, it’s now against DISD policy for a student to bully another student for being transgender, but it’s not against DISD policy for the district to fire a teacher for being transgender. And, apparently, it isn’t against DISD policy for an administrator to discriminate against a student for being transgender, as in the case of Andy Moreno. On Tuesday night I sat in a Stonewall Democrats meeting and listened to a gay student talk about the resistance he’s faced from administrators in trying to establish a GSA at Woodrow Wilson High School. So while the budget situation is critical, let’s also remember that for some LGBTQA youth, the issues we’re raising could be a matter of life and death.

—  John Wright

Linus Wright proposes eliminating 12th grade

Linus Wright

Now that the election is over and the campaign ads from the current governor talking about the solid state of the Texas economy are a distant memory, the Legislature is having to deal with reality — huge deficits.

Former Dallas Independent School District superintendent Linus Wright, who helped destroy DISD in the 1980s, made a budget-cutting proposal — eliminate 12th grade.

Makes sense. Has lots of upside.

If most dropouts occur in the 12th grade, eliminate 12th grade. With the stroke of a pen, save millions of dollars and cut the Texas dropout rate in half.

Never mind that colleges don’t accept students who’ve only graduated from 11th grade. But maybe college is a waste of time to Wright and his ilk as well.

—  David Taffet

DISD approves LGBT-inclusive bullying policy

William Morvant, a gay student at Booker T. Washington High School, addresses the DISD board of trustees while other audience members from the LGBT community stand in support on Thursday.

Following a discussion in which several named their own personal schoolyard tormentor, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday evening to approve a comprehensive new bullying policy that specifically protects LGBT students.

Trustees also heard from several members of the LGBT community, including two students, before voting 9-0 to approve the policy, enacted in the wake of a string of gay teen suicides across the nation.

The policy, spearheaded by trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn, reportedly makes DISD the first district in the state to specifically prohibit bullying based on both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“School should be one of those places that we call a safe haven,” said Blackburn, who said his bully “Brandon” took his lunch money every day. “If we are fearful for our physical being, then our intellectual being is not going to benefit.”

Blackburn said the board tried to make the policy as inclusive as possible and drew on policies from Broward County, Fla., Los Angeles and Michigan.

“I’m hopeful that the administration will implement this policy with full vigor whereby all of our students will have protections,” Blackburn said. “Safe schools is one of our goals, it’s always been one of our goals. It’s not only about somebody coming to a school building with a gun or a knife. Safe schools mean being safe from people like Brandon.”

Nutall took the opportunity to apologize to DISD students who’ve been bullied, including those who spoke Thursday.

“I commend you on your courage for coming down here and telling your story,” Nutall said, adding that her bully is now in prison. “I apologize that we didn’t act on this faster.”

William Morvant, a gay student at DISD’s Booker T. Washington High School, told the board he came out in seventh grade and attempted suicide twice. He said his memories of DISD will be mostly of bullying, harassment and being called “inhumane words.”

“I’m here to speak today because if this policy were in tact, I believe I would have had a better growing up experience in school,” Morvant said. “I wouldn’t have had to go taking 20 pain pills to kill myself to get rid of the pain, cutting just to get those words that I was called out.”

Others from the LGBT community who addressed the board prior to the vote were Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas; Omar Narvaez, vice president of LULAC #4871-The Dallas Rainbow Council; Delaney Hillan, also a student at Booker T. Washington; and Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas.

Dozens more from the community attended the meeting, standing when speakers took the microphone and erupting in applause after the vote.

—  John Wright

‘Come see history being made’

LGBT advocates are encouraging people to attend this Thursday’s DISD board of trustees meeting, where a final vote is expected on an LGBT-inclusive bullying policy.

“Come see history being made,” said Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas. “We would certainly like to see a packed crowd of people supporting the policy. You can stop by on your way home.”

The meeting is at 5:30 p.m. in the Ada L. Williams Auditorium at 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas.

If the measure is approved, the district will become the first in the state to adopt an LGBT-inclusive bullying policy.

McDonnell said RCD Executive Director Cece Cox is slated to address the board of trustees prior to the vote. The center was also working to line up DISD students to speak.

None of the school district’s nine trustees objected to the proposed policy when it was first discussed in a work session two weeks ago, but McDonnell said he’s not taking anything for granted.

To read the policy, go here.

—  John Wright

A revised draft of DISD’s new bullying policy

Lew Blackburn

If you’ll remember, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees moved forward last Thursday with a new bullying policy that would specifically protect LGBT students. The LGBT-inclusive bullying policy, which would be the first in the state, was brought forward by trustees Lew Blackburn and Bernadette Nutall after a previous proposal from the administration failed to enumerate protected groups.

Today, Blackburn was kind enough to send over a revised draft of the LGBT-inclusive policy, which reflects some minor changes suggested by trustees during Thursday’s meeting.

“The changes are mostly formatting, with a few wordings that individual trustees wanted to add for greater clarity,” Blackburn said. “We are scheduled to vote on the policy next week.”

Read the revised draft of the policy by going here. Next week’s meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18 in the Ada L. Williams Auditorium, at 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas.

—  John Wright

DISD moves ahead on LGBT-inclusive bullying policy

SPREADING THE WORD | Rafael McDonnell, facing camera, speaks to the press Thursday following the DISD  board meeting in which trustees gave preliminary approval to an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

District spokesman says new proposal likely to be approved at Nov. 18 board meeting

Click here to read a draft of the proposed policy

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

In response to a series of gay teen suicides across the nation, the Dallas Independent School District is moving forward with a policy that provides specific protections against bullying for LGBT students.

The seven-page policy discussed by DISD’s board of trustees on Thursday, Nov. 4, would make the district the first in Texas to outlaw bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

None of DISD’s nine trustees spoke against the proposal during Thursday’s briefing session, and a district spokesman said afterward that the policy likely will be approved by the board at its next meeting Nov. 18.

“I hope as a district that this sets a trend for others — that this is something that has to end, and let it begin with DISD,” trustee Nancy Bingham said.

District staff had initially proposed a general bullying policy that failed to enumerate categories of protected students, prompting objections from LGBT advocates who’ve lobbied trustees over the last month.

Trustee Eric Cowan said he’s glad the categories were added.

“I wish we were at a point where all students could mean all students, but unfortunately our society isn’t there yet,” Cowan said.

The LGBT-inclusive policy was brought forward by trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn. The policy is similar to one that’s in place in Broward County, Fla., home to Fort Lauderdale.

“We finally got a bullying policy where everybody is covered,” Nutall said. “I was bullied as a child, so I don’t want anybody to go through that craziness.”

Nutall said she’s asked staff to develop training on the policy for students, teachers and staff. The policy will be included in the Code of Conduct that’s distributed to all DISD students.

“They need to understand what bullying is and what they can get in trouble for,” Nutall said.

Thursday’s discussion came after trustees heard from three representatives from the LGBT community.

Roger Poindexter, director of Lambda Legal’s South Central Region, warned that gay students who’ve been bullied have won large monetary settlements from districts in other parts of the nation.

Poindexter said while a general policy might give adults “a warm fuzzy feeling,” it wouldn’t accomplish its goal.

“We need to spell it out so the bullies can understand it,” Poindexter said, before reading off the names of gay teens who’ve taken their own lives in recent months, including 13-year-old Asher Brown near Houston.

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said 10 years of research shows that enumerated bullying policies are more effective.

“If it isn’t written, nobody’s going to think about it,” McDonnell said.

Jesse Garcia, president of Dallas’ gay chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told trustees they’re “sorely mistaken” if they think current policies are protecting students from anti-gay bullying.

While DISD has policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, Garcia said he knows a student who was bullied relentlessly for being gay before being “saved” by the LGBT community.

“Don’t make a suicide make you do the right thing,” Garcia told trustees. “The time to act is now.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens