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Hartland School Board votes to restrict the content of classroom displays

On the same night that the Livingston County Board of Commissioners voted to implement a restrictive policy prompted by promotion of LGBTQ+ events, the Hartland Consolidated Schools Board of Education passed a similar policy revision to restrict the content of classroom displays.

The policy change, put forward by Trustee Glenn Gogoleski, states that any media including signs, posters, stickers and flags (other than the American and Michigan flags), “depicting any social and/or political causes unrelated to the daily curriculum shall not be allowed in schools and classrooms unless the media/items are for the classroom discussion as part of the curriculum for that day and subject.”

Many parents in the district are convinced the proposal is a direct attack on Safe Space stickers and other similar materials that are present in some Hartland classrooms letting students in marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ+ community know that they are welcome and safe in that environment.

As such there was lengthy comment at Monday’s board meeting on the issue. But in the end, Treasurer Meghan Glabach voted with the three “Clean Slate” Trustees; Gogoleski, Michelle Blondeel and Greg Keller to approve the policy revision.

Voting against the change was Board President Chris Costa, Vice President Kristin Coleman and Secretary Cindy Shaw.

Glabach said her vote to approve the revision was based on a proposed student-designed “safe space” sticker that represents all students, including those that are in our most vulnerable groups.

“I recommended moving forward with the student designed sticker,” she said. “In addition, I am not sure any media content could support these students in the way we need to support them. I am looking forward to our district and our newly approved Director of Student Services identifying those necessary resources, and advocating for said resources for our most vulnerable students. Every student should feel safe and welcomed. We need to hold ourselves, our students and our families accountable to this as well.”

However, that rationale doesn’t sit well with Nate Dorough, a parent in the Hartland district.

“To me, it smacks of an ‘All Lives Matter’ sort of scenario, where we’re not going to say that it’s okay to be gay, we’re not going to use rainbows, but we’re going to say that everybody deserves respect,” he said. “Which to be clear, everybody does deserve respect, but also sometimes for marginalized communities, you have to say, ‘Black Lives Matter’, you have to say, ‘Gay people are welcome here’, you have to say, ‘Trans rights are important.’ You have to be able to say these things individually to acknowledge the overarching thing that yes, all people deserve respect.”

Dorough also says that it likely isn’t a coincidence the resolution was put forward by Gogoleski during Pride Month.

“It doesn’t feel like it,“ he said. “You can see the steps being taken to establish their position and then they make their moves. I think that nothing that man (Gogoleski) does seems to be accidental. There’s a purpose here for sure.”

“Glenn’s time on the board, he’s been pushing for the ability for him to just enter schools at any time and go in and see what the teachers are up to and it comes under the guise of like he’s some sort of safety expert or something, said Dorough. “lt’s clear that he wants oversight in a lot of things that the school board really isn’t supposed to have oversight in.”

A request for comment to Gogoleski has so far not been returned.

However, Hartland School Board President Chris Costa said he was  disappointed in the outcome of the vote regarding the proposed changes to the policy.

“Even with this change, I’m hopeful that our district will still find ways to support our most vulnerable students,” he told GIGO News in a statement. “Personally, I will continue to stand by the belief that it is important to respect the inherent dignity of every human. This can be accomplished by creating an environment that is safe and welcoming in which everyone feels represented. I will not waiver in my efforts to create a school culture that supports a diverse, equitable, and inclusive educational community.”

Julie Ohashi with the advocacy group Stand Against Extremism LivCo said the decision could also very well result in the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and potentially even litigation. She points to a letter the ACLU recently sent to the Fenton Public School District to support the School Board’s decision there to continue to permit school staff to wear Equality Badges in support of LGBTQ+ students.

In that letter, Jay Kaplan, Staff Attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ+ Project, noted that “the prohibition against sex discrimination under Title IX and the Equal Protection clause of the US Constitution protects students from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, transgender status or gender non-conformity.” Kaplan further said that amendments to the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act were signed into law in March by Governor Whitmer providing “explicit protections against discrimination in education on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”

Ohashi also says the replacement sticker mentioned by Glabach has not been reviewed or even shown publicly.

“It’s our understanding that there is not actually a replacement safe space sticker even ready for review- no one has seen it,” she said. “We do not have confirmation that they even worked with marginalized kids (LGBTQIA, POC, BiPOC, Special Education, or Students with disabilities, etc.) in the creation process. Since we have not received a straightforward answer about this we are assuming that there has not been proper representation in the creation process which would make the new sticker NOT inclusive.”

Ohashi says the new policy change will have far reaching implications that they haven’t even considered yet.

“There’s a Bible club at the middle school – does this mean that goes away? Someone pointed out Christmas celebrations- will those be allowed?” What should have been done last night is to table this so that they could think it through and propose a new prototype properly,” she said. “That would have been the responsible approach, but we are afraid what will happen now is that the revised school policy has opened up a Pandora’s box that will not shut quietly and the district will likely pay for it in costly lawsuits.”

Ohashi added that the decision has resulted in heightened anxieties.

“We have reports this morning of kids asking their parents ‘When do you think those board members are going to start attacking the band?’ Teachers are wondering if they will be fired for refusing to remove the sticker. Some teachers are asking if the gay straight alliance club will still be allowed. Everyone is wondering how it will be enforced. We are waiting to see how it’s going to be rolled out to determine our next moves.”

Ohashi added that anyone interested regarding future calls to action regarding this situation are welcome to follow their group on FaceBook.

Also speaking out is Queer Families Livingston, which issued the following statement:

“Our community is experiencing an uptick in anti-LGBTQIA+ policy at the local level.

Queer Families Livingston, a 501c3, whose mission is to support and uplift members of the LGBTQIA+ community in Livingston County maintains its commitment to providing safe, family friendly programming for its members while fostering positive communication through our “Conversations of Concern” project. Conversations of Concern (CoC) is available for all members of the community and QFL provides a dedicated team to facilitate conversation in a non-judgmental space. This includes members of our community that advocate or support these recently enacted policies. At QFL we believe that by engaging in a constructive honest way, we can build bridges in our community to better understand one another. To find our more, please visit our website www.QFLivco.org or email QFLivco@gmail.com.

While we are deeply concerned about these policies that appear to be discriminatory and an attempt to erase the progress clearly happening in Livingston County, we want the queer community to know that you are seen, you are heard, and you are loved. Be heartened that the recent Pride celebrations across the county have proved that Livingston County is welcoming place for LGBTQIA+ people, and the actions of a very small, but loud group will not change the reality we know through these great events. CoC is not licensed therapy or counseling.”

For Dorough, he said something Glabach said at Monday’s meeting put the entire issue into perspective.

“She said something like, ‘I just want to go back to where Hartland was years ago where we didn’t talk about this, when we weren’t so wrapped up in this stuff all the time.’ Well, the cat’s out of the bag and we need to find a way to be able to talk about this, because that’s what saves lives,” he said. “That’s what makes sure people are safe. That’s what is going to drop the suicide rates. Of all the ramblings and everything that took place last night, that was maybe the most concerning for me, this idea that we want to push the rewind button.”

A request for comment was also sent to Superintendent Chuck Hughes but was not returned.

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