Schools to add LGBTQ staff train­ing

Dan­bury looks to start new pro­gram next fall

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Zach Mur­dock

DAN­BURY — Lo­cal LGBTQ lead­ers are pitch­ing Dan­bury Pub­lic Schools to im­ple­ment new train­ing to help teach­ers and staff to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate with LGBTQ stu­dents and same-sex par­ents.

Teach­ers and staff do not now re­ceive any train­ing spe­cific to LGBTQ is­sues, of­ten leav­ing teach­ers on their own to fig­ure out how best to ad­dress in­sen­si­tive com­ments or ques­tions in their class­room, say lead­ers of the Dan­bury Area Jus­tice Net­work, which ad­vo­cates for LGBTQ is­sues across the area.

In­stead, Jus­tice Net­work lead­ers ar­gue the district could make a ma­jor dif­fer­ence with only a few hours of ded­i­cated train­ing dur­ing teach­ers’ pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment days through­out the school year.

“There are staff who have or have had gen­der non­con­form­ing stu­dents in their

class­room and they want to help and they want to be sup­port­ive, but they’ve said to me I just don’t know what to do or to say, so they of­ten just do noth­ing,” said Kevin Had­dad, a fourth-grade teacher at King Street In­ter­me­di­ate School.

“I think we need to sup­port all of our stu­dents to the best of our abil­i­ties,” he said. “Small things can be done, even at the ele­men­tary level, to make a stu­dent feel more com­fort­able.”

Jus­tice Net­work lead­ers broached the topic with school lead­ers last month and have been work­ing with ad­min­is­tra­tors on pos­si­ble op­tions since.

This week, As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent Kevin Wal­ston and Di­rec­tor of In­struc­tion Kara Quinn Casimiro an­nounced the district will in­cor­po­rate LGBTQ train­ing into a new suite of “anti-bias and cul­tural com­pe­tency ed­u­ca­tion.” This year’s pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment sched­ule is al­ready set, so the new pro­gram would start in the fall, they added.

“The places I’ve been, this train­ing was manda­tory for all the staff,” said Wal­ston, who joined the district this sum­mer and has worked at schools in Bridge­port, Water­bury and New Jersey. “I’m happy to hear we don’t have to talk everyone into do­ing this and that we have peo­ple in our com­mu­nity and our staff push­ing us to do this.

“My goal is to make sure in a cou­ple of months to out­line to the board and com­mu­nity what a draft pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment plan would look like … then mak­ing sure we’re kick­ing off the year in

those ar­eas,” he said. “Our idea is that as we’re talking about is­sues around eq­uity and eq­uity for all kids, that we have to talk about all com­mu­ni­ties.”

The train­ing will bet­ter equip teach­ers with more in­clu­sive ways of talking with LGBTQ stu­dents, their peers and par­ents about those is­sues, lead­ers said.

For ex­am­ple, a teacher might over­hear one stu­dent use “gay” as an in­sult against an­other and call the speaker out, Had­dad said. But the teacher might not know how to ex­plain why us­ing gay as a slur is wrong, leav­ing the young stu­dent with the wrong im­pres­sion that be­ing gay it­self is bad, he said.

The same goes for teach­ers who split stu­dents in boys and girls lines, which could in­ad­ver­tently alien­ate a stu­dent with­out the teacher realizing it, he added.

Melinda Scott, a fourth-grade teacher at Stadley Rough Ele­men­tary, echoed the call for train­ing.

“The re­al­ity is our so­ci­ety is chang­ing,” she said. “Our de­mo­graph­ics in Dan­bury have changed dra­mat­i­cally in so many dif­fer­ent ways. This is one of those many is­sues that we re­ally need to be proac­tive on and get ahead.”

Sev­eral free train­ing re­sources are avail­able on­line and oth­ers the district can re­quest from LGBTQ ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions, said Will Love, who helped found the Jus­tice Net­work in 2016.

Wal­ston and Jus­tice Net­work lead­ers will work on op­tions this year to present to the school board.

“It’s like a no-brainer,” Had­dad said. “It’s a win for ev­ery­body.”

Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia file photo

Dan­bury Schools As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent Kevin Wal­ston joined the district this sum­mer and sup­ports staff train­ing on LGBTQ is­sues.

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