SVVSD withdraws support for A Queer Endeavor – Longmont Times-Call
A day before the A Queer Endeavor Institute of Equity Educators, which took place over two days last week, the St. Vrain Valley School District withdrew its sponsorship over concerns that a session was anti-religion.
Organizers said St. Vrain Valley has pledged $ 15,000 to support the annual conference, which was held July 29-30 at Longmont High School. About 500 educators participated in person or virtually. The sponsorship of Saint-Vrain was to pay the registration fees of about 150 teachers of Saint-Vrain.
The conference included sessions on anti-racism, gender and sexual diversity, bilingualism, equity in rural communities, support for first generation and undocumented students, studies on disability, trauma and healing. St. Vrain Valley leaders had referred to the institute on several occasions when discussing the district’s equity work, including when discussing the response to a racist incident at Mead High School.
St. Vrain Valley spokeswoman Kerri McDermid said a conference attendee drew the district’s attention to a session. Based on a legal opinion, the district determined that the session did not meet the requirement that public school districts be religion neutral, she said.
“We couldn’t use funds to support the institute,” she said.
Bethy Leonardi, co-founder of A Queer Endeavor, said the concern stemmed from a misunderstanding of the content of a virtual session led by Reverend Lyndsey Godwin. The session was titled “Turning Swords into Plowshares: Disarming White Christian Supremacy for Gay and Transgender Liberation”.
Although the title of the session raised concerns, she said, the content of the session was not anti-religion. The session was an intellectual critique of the harm some religions have done to those who identify as LGBTQ – something she personally experienced after being raised in Catholicism and then rejected by her church – and how to heal from those experiences, she declared.
Leonardi added that she understands the hard work of district leaders at a time when “public schools are under attack regarding fair practices and any attempt will meet resistance and fear.”
“I hope our partnership with the school district continues,” she said. “I believe the district is committed to fair practices. We have the same goals. We all want to do a good job for the children and the community.
McDermid said the district provides its own professional development on equity for educators before the start of the school year.
“It is important to know that Saint-Vrain is fully committed to the success of each child, in particular by ensuring their safety, their well-being, their academic support and the possibility of obtaining the best education that Saint-Vrain has to offer. She said in a written statement. “As a result, we run our diversity and equity training internally to ensure consistency and alignment with district goals and priorities. “
The original plan also called for the school district to partner with A Queer Endeavor for the conference and provide use of Longmont High rent-free. But, organizers said, they mutually agreed with the district on sponsorship instead of partnership, and Longmont High was hired for the conference. Leonardi said the decision allows A Queer Endeavor to control the content of the sessions.
Leonardi and Sara Staley, assistant professors at the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, launched A Queer Endeavor to address the lack of information on gender and equity in teacher preparation programs.
The organization added Brittni Laura Hernandez to its staff this year, and recruited a diverse team of eight graduate students and three faculty members to help plan the Institute of Equity Educators for this year.
The institute, Leonardi said, aims to help teachers implement state and school district laws and policies, including state anti-discrimination law and a state law requiring that Schools include LGBTQ and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and Colored) perspectives in the curriculum.
“The agenda follows the law and the promise of what public education is,” she said, adding that this year’s institute was a success. “Five hundred people show up, they say fairness work is non-negotiable.”
After losing St. Vrain sponsorship, A Queer Endeavor pledged to waive registration fees for district educators and asked for donations. In just 24 hours, Leonardi said, the community gave more than the amount lost.
“People are invested in this work,” she said.