Summit School District meeting sees swell of support for LGBTQ+ resolution while others remain opposed
More than 200 people collectively appeared in-person and online, with some delivering at times emotional testimony for and against representation and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in early education
Summit Daily News
Around 150 people gathered in-person, and more than 120 appeared online, during a Jan. 31 Summit School District meeting to voice support and opposition to a resolution passed by the district’s Board of Education in October that reaffirmed — in part — its commitment to LGBTQ+ representation and inclusion.
The gathering came following a Jan. 12 board meeting during which several parents and county residents spoke largely against the resolution, especially as it pertains to students in Kindergarten through third grade. The Jan. 31 meeting, however, saw a majority of speakers give testimony in support of an LGBTQ-friendly curriculum, with some becoming visibly emotional.
Before public comment was taken, school district leaders also continued to voice their support for the LGBTQ+ community while acknowledging the concerns of some district parents.
“I can absolutely understand that people may have a set of values based on religious beliefs or backgrounds that may make this topic difficult,” said Superintendent Tony Byrd, who added that “no matter what, we will hold through to the value that every single student must feel included.”
Byrd said he and other district leaders had multiple meetings with students and parents about the resolution following the Jan. 12 meeting. A complaint Byrd said he’s heard from some parents is a lack of outreach and communication with the district’s roughly 40% Spanish-speaking community, including around topics like LGBTQ+ learning.
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The district needs to do a “better job of allocating time and resources,” to that community, Byrd said. But he defended the board’s resolution, which he said was a “statement of inclusivity for LGBTQ+ students and Black, indigenous and people of color.
“And I will sit in this seat to fight for those rights,” Byrd said.
The resolution, which was passed unanimously by board members in early October, referenced part of the district’s equity policy — passed in May 2021 — which acknowledges systemic barriers in education for marginalized communities and pledges to do more to include and represent those communities in the classroom.
It also sought to address concerns at the time that the Colorado State Board of Education may vote to keep omissions it previously made to references about LGBTQ+ people as well as communities of color and other groups in its social studies standards for public schools. Roughly a month after the Summit board’s resolution passed, the state board voted 4 to 3 to reinstate references to those communities.
An inclusive curriculum, district leaders said, is now a mandate for Colorado’s public schools which must also align their teachings with the 2019 Inclusion of American Minorities In Teaching Civil Government Act.
‘A climate of fear’
Throughout the more than 3-hour-long public comment period, some speakers said they were afraid or knew others who were afraid to come to the meeting due to fear brought on by death threats made against the district last week.
A 26-year-old Glenwood Springs man was arrested Jan. 25 after posting multiple comments that included death threats, according to court records, to teachers and staff on a Summit Daily News social media post that featured coverage of the Jan. 12 school board meeting.
“The events of the past weeks, including the hateful comments and threats made against our district, have created a climate of fear and insecurity for some of our students and families as well as staff,” said Myles Stolier, faculty advisor for Summit High School’s Student Equity Alliance.
Many commentators who spoke in favor of the resolution were part of the district community and included teachers, staff, parents and students. They said the district’s commitment to inclusion for marginalized identities was crucial to fostering a safe and successful environment.
“I was not able to accept my identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community until I was in my 20s purely because everything in my life pointed to who I was being a lie, a delusion, something to be ashamed of,” said Haley Jacks, a Summit High School teacher. “Who I am should never have been made out to be controversial.”
Rebecca Kaplan, a middle school librarian, said “straight and cisgender students absolutely need to be learning the history of people who are not them” and called representation of the LGBTQ+ community in school material “life saving work.”
The importance of inclusion and representation as a form of protecting students’ mental and emotional health was further echoed by Abby Hyland, a Summit High senior who said she identifies with the LGBTQ+ community.
Hyland said some students may face unsafe home environments where they do not feel comfortable expressing their gender or sexual identity to parents for “fear of ruining the family situation.”
That fear has “pushed kids to the brink of suicide,” Hyland said, adding, “… It pains me to my core to see that people are in such pushback against me as a person. I am not a political topic. I am not a social thing.”
Heather Gard, a district educator and alumnus, said she lost her 16-year-old child to suicide.
“The number one suicide prevention technique is sense of belonging,” Gard said.
A 2022 Healthy Kids Colorado survey found a majority of Colorado LGBTQ+ youth feel they don’t belong at school with with more than a quarter of transgender youth reporting they had attempted suicide in the previous year.
‘Teaching goes against our family values’
Many of the community members who spoke against the resolution said they had particular concern with LGBTQ+ education for younger students. Parents have been circulating an online petition to rescind the resolution for the past several weeks while a petition in support of the resolution began shortly after the Jan. 12 board meeting.
John Surette, a parent of two Frisco elementary students, said the district “wants to focus on dividing this community at the expense of our children’s academic future,” adding, “K through 12 education is no place for exploring the nuances of the social complexities of this world.”
Multiple parents also said the resolution challenged their faith and parental rights.
“What you are basically saying to kids is not to listen to your parents,” said Jennifer Gonzales. “This type of teaching goes against our family values, culture and Christian beliefs.”
In response to speakers who said they felt unsafe due to the death threats last week — which included language against LGBTQ+ representation — Danielle Surette said, “that person that threatened our community was not from our community. That was a lunatic. So I don’t appreciate people conflating the two.”
On gender and sexual identity, Surette added: “These kids don’t know any of this stuff.”
The comment highlighted the tension several parents voiced over what they said was inappropriate material being pushed onto youth.
“The age appropriateness of this resolution is definitely still in question,” said Rachel Barrientez, who also encouraged district parents to explore “numerous homeschooling options” so that they can teach the values they want.
District officials, including Byrd, have repeatedly stated that students in grades Kindergarten through third are not being taught any sexual material, rather they are learning about marginalized people in history books and being supported to express themselves how they want to.
The resolution also goes beyond students and is meant to help staff feel included and safe, speakers said. Breckenridge resident Dawn Banas gave the example of students who may see a gay teacher’s partner.
“We do not want to be in the position where we are not telling the truth to those children when they ask their same-sex teacher, ‘is that your brother?’” Banas said. “No, that’s their husband.”
That kind of discussion will help reduce — and even prevent — prejudices and bullying towards the LGBTQ+ community, speakers said.
For those who do not identify with that community, they said it is still important to be an ally for their peers.
“I have so many loved ones who identify with this community, and I would do anything to make them feel included,” said seventh-grader Wynter Willis. “It is important to help kids in our school community feel safe no matter what they identify with.”