erasing hate

Denver superintendent pledges to stand with elementary school defaced by anti-Semitic graffiti

PHOTO: Eric Gorski
Messages of love that replaced graffiti at Denver's Isabella Bird Community School.

The top school official in Denver on Monday condemned anti-Semitic graffiti found at an elementary school over the weekend and pledged to stand with students and staff.

Community members came together Sunday to erase the graffiti, which included a swastika as well as the words “Die DJ Can” spray-painted on a door and some playground equipment at Isabella Bird Community School in northeast Denver.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the school district is “working closely with Denver Police to identify those involved.”

“To our students and staff at Isabella Bird, we stand with you,” Boasberg said in a statement Monday. “To our families and community at Isabella Bird, we are deeply grateful for the outpouring of compassion and support demonstrated by your quick action in removing the graffiti and your thoughtful messages of love and acceptance.”

Josie Villalobos said she reported the graffiti to police and school officials after discovering it Saturday morning when she brought one of her daughters to the school playground. She said she felt sick, unsafe and stunned it could happen in a community that practices inclusivity.

On Monday afternoon, Villalobos was back at the playground pushing her daughter, Emma, on a swing. The graffiti had been scrubbed clean. A rainbow of paper cutout hearts had been taped to a nearby brick wall bearing words of encouragement, peace and love.

Some of the graffiti found at Isabella Bird Community School.
PHOTO: Courtesy Denver Public Schools
Some of the graffiti found at Isabella Bird Community School.

“I was just so heartened by the response from the community, and the cleanup, and the hearts. It’s just fantastic,” said Villalobos, who has another daughter in the school. “It’s just a great lesson for the kids to know that this does happen and that this is going to be our response.”

A Denver Public Schools spokeswoman said the district hasn’t heard of similar incidents at other schools, nor have officials gotten reports of increased bullying or hate speech as have been reported at some schools around the country in the wake of the presidential election.

The Denver school board last week approved a resolution affirming the district’s goal to celebrate diversity and “act quickly to prevent and address any and all issues of discrimination and harassment in our schools.” After the election, teachers comforted students made fearful by campaign rhetoric. Students walked out of school to protest president-elect Donald Trump. The district also produced a fact sheet answering families’ immigration-related questions.

Isabella Bird Community School is one of several elementary schools in the growing Stapleton neighborhood. Named for a British explorer and author of A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, the school opened in the fall of 2013.

Last year, 20 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, which was below the district average of 69 percent. Thirty-seven percent of students were children of color.

In the fall of 2015, Isabella Bird Community School opened a DPS Newcomer Center that serves refugee students and others who are learning English.

Chalkbeat bureau chief Eric Gorski contributed to this report.

Rolling Back Protections

Colorado’s transgender students will still get to use the bathrooms they choose despite Trump’s order. Here’s why

Six-year-old Coy Mathis in 2013. The Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled that her Fountain school violated her civil rights when it denied her access to the girl's restroom.

Colorado students shouldn’t have to worry about new guidance from the Trump administration that rescinds federal protections for transgender students because of existing state law here.

Colorado lawmakers in 2008 passed a law that forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public places — including schools.

That law was put to the test in 2013 when a 6-year-old transgender student in Fountain was denied access to a girls’ restroom. The Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled that Eagleside Elementary School violated Coy Mathis’s rights to use the restroom that best aligned with her gender identity.

The ruling was considered a landmark victory for transgender rights in the state and elsewhere.

In 2016, the Obama administration attempted to shore up protections for transgender students under Title IX, the federal statute that since 1972 has outlined protections for students based on sex.

But a federal court blocked the U.S.Department of Education from enforcing schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom of their choice.

Now, the Trump administration is revoking those protections in a move announced Wednesday.

The result: protections for transgender students in some states, such as Colorado, but not in others. Thirty three states have no local laws protecting transgender students’ rights to use the restroom of their choice.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — who reportedly urged Trump not to roll back the Obama-era protections — said in a statement the department was committed to protecting the rights of all students, but added the issue should be left to states and local school districts.

“Schools, communities, and families can find – and in many cases have found – solutions that protect all students,” she said. “We owe all students a commitment to ensure they have access to a learning environment that is free of discrimination, bullying and harassment.”

Civil rights groups were quick to criticize the new order.

“This is a serious attack by the Trump Administration on transgender students; opening them up to harassment, discrimination, and violence in their schools,” said One Colorado, the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group. “No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at their school or college campus. Luckily, Colorado has been on the right side of this issue for years, by including sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination law, passed in 2008.”

Update: This post has been updated to include a comment from One Colorado.

Newcomers

Indianapolis Public Schools board votes tomorrow on a resolution to support undocumented students. We annotated it.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

The Indianapolis Public School board can’t protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. But it can do its best to reassure families that school is still safe.

The board will vote Thursday on a largely symbolic resolution to show support for undocumented students.

The move comes amid rising tensions over the Trump administration’s plans to crack down on undocumented immigrants. At recent meetings parents have spoken to the board about families’ fears, and teachers have struggled to reassure anxious students.

“We’ve heard concerns from a number of immigrant students and families,” said board president Mary Ann Sullivan. “We want to communicate our commitment to serving and supporting them in every way we can.”

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said that the district is already working to serve immigrant students.

“I don’t see it changing our work and what we do already,” he said. “This is the commissioners’ way, and the administration’s, of assuring families that we will continue to maintain the welcoming environment that we have.”

What follows is the full text of the resolution. We’ve annotated it with links to our past coverage and context. Click on the highlighted passages to read our annotations.

RESOLUTION NO. 7736 – February 23rd, 2017
REAFFIRMING THE COMMITMENT TO CREATING A SAFE AND SUPPORTIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR ALL STUDENTS REGARDLESS OF IMMIGRATION STATUS

WHEREAS, Indianapolis Public Schools (“IPS”) is committed to creating a safe, supportive, and welcoming learning environment regardless of, among other things, race, religion, nationality, sexual identity, ability, or immigration status; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe (1982) recognized the injustice of placing discriminatory burdens on the basis of legal characteristics over which children have no control, and held it unconstitutional to deny a free, public education to children who are not legally admitted into the United States; and

WHEREAS, the Board of School Commissioners recognizes the tremendous value and diversity that immigrant students and families bring to the school district; and

WHEREAS, the Board approved the establishment of a Newcomer Program in April 2016 to provide additional academic and community supports to students and families that have recently immigrated to the United States; and

WHEREAS, the Board of School Commissioners, and every person in its employ, is committed to standing with, and supporting, all IPS students and families to the fullest extent possible while complying with all local, state, and federal law;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, by the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis, that to the extent permitted by applicable law:

  • IPS will remain a safe and welcoming place for all students and families regardless of their immigration status;
  • IPS policies against intimidation, bullying, or discrimination of any student, including those born outside of the United States or for whom English is a second language, will continue to be strictly enforced to ensure that all students are treated with dignity and respect;
  • IPS will continue to seek opportunities to increase and enhance programs and partnerships that support and assist immigrant students and families;
  • IPS employees shall continue to follow the policy and practice of not requiring social security numbers for any enrolled or enrolling student and will continue to refrain from inquiring about a student’s or parent’s immigration status;
  • As in the past, IPS employees will not collect or provide any information regarding a student’s (or his/her family’s) immigration status, except as legally required;
  • The Board supports U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy that restricts enforcement actions by ICE officers and agents in or around schools, and reminds IPS employees that they shall not assist immigration enforcement efforts unless legally required and authorized to do so by the Superintendent.

The foregoing Resolution No. 7736 was passed by the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis this 23rd day of February, 2017.