Tuesday, November 22, 2016

An open letter to the Shawnee Mission School District regarding safety pins in the classroom

I am the parent of a student in the Shawnee Mission School District, a taxpayer, and a PTA member. Our daughter is in the Enhanced Learning program, Y Club, and choir. My family has been active, attending and making treats for most class parties and participating in after-school programs. I volunteered every Friday morning for Ms. Sharp's kindergarten class as the Reading Helper. I've been a parent helper on numerous field trips. Our daughter is in fifth grade and has attended the same school since kindergarten: Apache Innovative School.

My husband attended Comanche Elementary, Westridge Middle School, and Shawnee Mission West High School where he sang with the Madrigals and won numerous awards. I attended Milburn Junior High and Shawnee Mission North High School. Needless to say, we are proud Shawnee Mission School District alumni and parents. Many of our friends have moved south so their kids can attend the better-funded Blue Valley School District, but we have chosen to stick it out with SMSD. For the most part, we are happy with that decision.

I have a concern about something I read in The Shawnee Mission Post regarding the ban from teachers wearing safety pins: http://shawneemissionpost.com/2016/11/22/shawnee-mission-move-to-ban-teachers-from-wearing-safety-pins-after-election-causes-swift-backlash-among-parents-57992

I wholeheartedly agree with district parent Jennifer Howerton's statement:

“It’s a statement that the wearer will stand up against anyone who uses the election as a validation of their white supremacist, or misogynistic, or racist, or homophobic feelings and acts upon them,” Howerton said. “The wearer is a safe person (hence safety pin) who can be relied upon to help. The district clearly lacks willingness to understand this gesture. This is a slippery slope, where uninformed parents can complain to the district, and the district makes a decision not based on facts.”

There are many great things about educating our gifted child in the Shawnee Mission School District. We could homeschool her, or send her to private school, but I think it's important for our child to learn how to get along in a world full of different people. I am a librarian, so I could easily bring books and videos home for our child to consume, but sending our child to public school gives her a broader education. She learns from teachers with multiple viewpoints and interacts with a wide array of people whose experiences enrich her life. One of the things I like so much about her school is the diversity of our daughter's peers. Our daughter is white, middle class, and Presbyterian. She has friends who are biracial, Latino, African-American, and Asian. Some come from families that are more lower class than our family, some more upper class. Some are mainline Christian, evangelical Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and some are irreligious. All of them are kids I have grown to love as my own, many since they were little five year olds reading to me in Ms. Sharp's kindergarten class.

I am concerned that as our children grow they will begin to feel lost, misunderstood, and alone. Especially kids who come from historically marginalized groups. Our electoral college will vote for Donald Trump--a man who is on record bullying the disabled, Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, people in the LGBTQ community, and women--to be the President of this great nation. I am a sexual assault survivor. I live with PTSD, and the election of a man who brags about grabbing women by their genitals triggers my anxiety in ways only others who have experienced sexual assault can fully comprehend. If I were still a student in the Shawnee Mission School District, I would find comfort in the subtle sign of safety that is a teacher or custodian or principal wearing a safety pin. I would feel like I could trust them. I would feel like my experiences and concerns about the world are valid and understood. 

The purpose of a great public school education is to raise citizens who think critically and who are ready to get to work to make our community the best it can be. I encourage you to rethink the decision to ban educators from wearing a simple safety pin. Our children, all of our children, deserve to feel safe at school.

Becky Carleton 

Voice your opinion at the next board meeting:

Board of education meetings
fourth Monday of every month at 7 p.m.
next meeting: Monday, November 28 at 7pm

McEachen Administrative Center board rooms
7235 Antioch Road
Shawnee Mission, KS 66204
(913) 993-6200

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