A group of Springfield parents, friends and family members of LGBTQ students stepped up their support this weekend after two Springfield school board members were part of a radio show Friday that addressed gender identity issues.
Board member Steve Makoski, guest host of the two-hour show on KWTO, said gender identity issues can be distracting in the learning environment and “hinder student success.” Vice President of the Board of Directors Maryam Mohammadkhani questioned the impact of “Safe Space” stickers in the classroom.
Makoski, Mohammadkhani and one of three other guests — a public policy adviser to the Missouri Baptist Convention — expressed concern that adults in the school could “groom” vulnerable students, either ideologically or sexually.
The group, PFLAG Springfield, said it had one in the face of recent troubles in the district — including the removal of Pride flags from some classrooms at a high school — and what it described as “anti-LGBTQ+ and specifically transphobic rhetoric.” new website and poster launched” used by board members throughout the show.
“It is clear that Makoski and Mohammadkhani’s personal opinions do influence the policies they support and decisions they make in their roles on the SPS Board of Education. At various points throughout the KWTO program, both board members spoke of hard working, caring and effective teachers as caretakers. Not only is this language abhorrent and unacceptable, it is dangerous,” said Aaron Schekorra, President of the PFLAG Springfield Board of Directors.
More:On the radio, an SPS board member talks about gender identity, Pride flags, Safe Space stickers
“To portray those who disagree with you as dangerous individuals whose aim is to harm the children they work with in their classes is rhetoric that can and does incite violence. Steve Makoski even went so far as to urge people to take action and ‘Come in defense of these children’ and ‘Come in and intervene’.”
PFLAG to students: “We have your back”
The billboard on Battlefield Road, just west of Glenstone Avenue, reads, “Springfield Students, We’ve Got Your Back.” It also encourages the public to “make their voices heard” by encouraging the entire school board and PFLAG Springfield sends an email via a new website SupportSPSstudents.org.
“This line of attack on the queer community has become all too common in our community, and it’s disappointing to see it being used on some of our most underappreciated officials, teachers,” Schekorra said. “PFAG Springfield has heard from educators who feel unsafe in the classroom because of rhetoric like this.”
As of Tuesday noon, 30 emails had been sent to the board and a handful had agreed to share their messages with the news leader.
In an email, Kit Creemer, parent of two transgender children, suggested to board members attending the radio show that they spend time with the family of an SPS student who is transgender.
“Follow students for a day at school and see what types of obstacles they face, how it feels for them to see a Safe Space sticker on a teacher’s door, and learn to teach teachers.” “Seeing people who show a special interest, not as ‘groomers,’ but as caring people who want to keep all children alive and well,” Creemer wrote. “Spend a day with the parents of a transgender child and experience the extra one Stress that society places on them when they fight for their child’s well-being instead of callously and ignorantly implying that they are complicit in their child’s destruction.”
Creemer cited a 2020 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed 29 percent of transgender youth were threatened with a gun or injured on school property; approximately 30 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students experienced bullying on school property; and 29 percent of transgender youth have attempted suicide.
Creemer also cited the Trevor Project’s most recent National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, which showed that 52 percent of all transgender and nonbinary young people in the United States were seriously considering suicide in 2020.
“We need school board members, administrators, teachers and support staff who are educated on the data, learning how to protect and helping LGBTQ students thrive, and have a strong desire to share the importance of these statistics in Springfield Public Schools decrease.” Crememer wrote.
“Some educators have this desire and are demonstrating it through the work they do with LGBTQ students and by putting up Pride flags and Safe Space stickers in their classrooms.”
More:After removing the Pride flag, SPS issues reminders for staff speech and behavior
In the letter, Creemer said that Makoski and Mohammadkhani “felt appropriate to use their board positions to share their thoughts on gender identity on a radio talk show.” By taking this irresponsible action, they have further ostracized Springfield’s already marginalized public school system and potentially endangered students they have pledged to serve as board members.”
Advocates say safe spaces in schools are important
In a statement from PFLAG Springfield, Schekorra said the Safe Space stickers send a signal to LGBTQ students who are at higher risk of bullying and issues at home that could affect their ability to learn at school
“When students are deprived of the ability to find a safe and affirming adult with whom to speak about issues they may be facing, discussions that can lead to appropriate and necessary action, LGBTQ+ students will only be further connected to the marginalized and exacerbated these problems throughout the district,” Schekorra wrote.
“Despite the desire for every inch of schools to be safe for every student, there are actually unsafe places in Springfield.”
So far:In emails, new SPS board members urge discussion on diversity and equity issues
Schekorra added, “Mohammadkhani and Makoski call these issues a distraction when all the evidence points to identified, safe and supportive educators having a positive impact on student education.”
Springfield’s trans-identifying parent, Asher Hackworth, wrote to the board that the Pride flag is flown year-round at their home to “show our community that this is a safe place to live.”
“However, for this to be a safe place to live and love, we also need the support of our community,” Hackworth wrote.
According to Hackworth, LGBTQ+ students face discrimination and bullying and have a higher risk of suicide than their peers.
“A lot of queer kids in the area don’t get that from their parents and social circles. Many children are thrown out of their homes when they are discovered to be LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ youth in the foster care system have the greatest difficulty finding foster care,” Hackworth said.
“That is why it is of the utmost importance for SPS to be a school district that protects, supports and loves the most vulnerable in our community. Our schools have a duty to the community to be a safe haven for all children.”
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Kelly Dudley, an expert on parenting and early childhood wellness at the Missouri Department of Mental Health, wrote that “children learn when they feel safe.”
“Children’s brains grow healthier and stronger when they feel safe. Children are braver, show more empathy, and are able to use their developing executive functions when they feel secure,” Dudley wrote.
“Knowing that they are seen, accepted, and loved by their teacher provides a sense of security.”
Dudley added that LGBTQ teachers deserve “just as much love, respect and support.”
Brian Vega, also an advisor, said there is a “huge amount of research” showing that LGBTQ students are not as safe as their “cisgender heteronormative peers.”
He wrote: “They need signage, safe spaces and extra support to help them see through to graduation. Please educate yourself about the needs of these students.”
Claudette Riley is an education reporter for News-Leader. Email news tips to email@example.com.