Send MoD to Netroots Nation!

 Update 5.17.2014

THANK YOU to all who voted and shared this contest information! I was selected as one of the scholarship winners and hope I can make this work now with my summer schedule.  I so appreciate the support and kind words - and look forward to attending this exciting event if I can!  Click here to see all the winners.

- Heather




Dear friends of MoD,

Netroots Nation - a sort of progressive summer camp for bloggers, activists, and advocates -  just happens to be taking place in Detroit this summer.  And Detroit just happens to be in my home state of Michigan, where I just happen to have unlimited free childcare (thanks, Mom & Dad!).


And the featured guest speaker just happens to be Elizabeth Warren.

And I just happen to have wanted to attend this event for years (having heard rave reviews from others who've attended), but the timing/pricing/logistics have never been right.

This year I think I can do it. 

But not without a scholarship.


I humbly ask you to take 5 seconds to vote for me in this contest so that I have a chance to win a scholarship that would cover the registration fee and lodging.  Voting ends at 11:59pm (Pacific Time) on May 12, 2014.

It really does just take a second, and I promise that whatever I learn at this conference will be paid back in future writing, organizing, and general world-a-better-place-making!

And, if you're feeling extra votey, please take a minute to share some love with fellow grassroots organizers Chris McDonough (SPARC, Wisconsin Grassroots Network) and Marcia Riquelme (Deforest Area Progressives, Wisconsin Grassroots Network).

Thank you!  

- Heather




Lunch of Shame Update: From Waterloo to Sun Prairie

Lunch of Shame UPDATE : 4/13/2014. 

After I published a widely-read post on the "Lunch of Shame" policy in Waterloo, several people reached out to inform me that the policy in my own district, Sun Prairie, may not be as "soft-handed" in practice as I was told when interviewing administrators for that piece.  Disappointed, and bracing myself, I followed up.


I've since learned that we, too, have a practice (if not policy) of taking trays of food and throwing them into the trash, and that discretion is left to each school on how this is handled.  Like Waterloo, the Sun Prairie practice doesn't affect elementary schools (where the kids have their cards scanned before they go through the cafeteria line), but does affect older students, especially those who purchase "a la carte" items at the high school.  As in Waterloo, the tray of food is taken away and thrown in the garbage, and the student is offered an "alternative" lunch (PB&J) that is charged to the delinquent account at a reduced price.  I also learned that the school-by-school practices seem to vary widely - from being gentle and accommodating to harsh and intimidating.  One former lunchroom worker spoke of having repeatedly seen children at an elementary school crying, asking "why" they couldn't eat a hot lunch, not understanding (or knowing) that they had "insufficient funds."

We already knew that hunger is a major issue at our schools, including the high school, where social workers report that they cannot accomodate all the requests for snacks they receive during the day. One wonders if some of these hungry students are opting not to eat at lunch time for fear of being shamed.

I took my concerns to our school board and administration, and brought up the question at a school board candidate forum as well. At that forum, each of the candidates spoke in opposition to any policy that shames a student,  including re-elected board president Tom Weber and newly elected board member Carol Albright.  Our local advocacy and action team, SPARC, also asked that the board take up this issue and I'm pleased to say it's on the agenda for the April 21, 2014 meeting of the Performance and Operations Committee.  Sun Prairie residents and educators who care about this issue are encouraged to attend that meeting, and/or share their thoughts and concerns with the board and our superintendent. Emails can be sent to SPASD board president Tom Weber at tweber@spasd.k12.wi.us and District Superintendent Dr. Tim Culver at tculver@spasd.k12.wi.us.  The April 21st meeting will be held at the District Office, 501 S. Bird Street, at 6:30pm.  The committee will forward its recommendation to the board, who will take up the issue for voting at a future regular meeting of the school board, so now is the key time to share your ideas or concerns with board members on this important issue.


Given the equity-focused vision I've seen emerge from our recent Strategic Planning sessions here in Sun Prairie, I believe that Sun Prairie can and should be a model for what creative and responsible ways to improve practices to provide a safe, healthy, equitable learning environment for all students.  While Waterloo has chosen to respond to the petition by bemoaning the "bad publicity" and refusing to apologize to shamed students, Sun Prairie seems on track for providing an example of what can happen when we put students' needs first and take seriously recent reports that prove we have a long way to go in helping all of our students. In my last post on this topic, I pointed out that this issue is essentially one of equity, the principle that every child is afforded an equal opportunity to succeed in our schools, regardless of that child's family or financial status, or where that child falls on the continuum of "achievement":
In public education, we talk a lot about the need for equity and data-driven decision-making in our schools.  Let's put the data that matters most first: 
I began my original "lunch of shame" post with my starting assumption, and I'll close with it here:


We all want what's best for our kids and our schools.

There's no reason we can't provide that.

And it's remarkable what can happen when just a few people speak up and share their concerns.  Find out what's going on in your district.  Then find out how you can help do what's best for the kids there.



"There is no respectful way to throw away a child's lunch. This is at best a wasteful practice, and at worst school sanctioned humiliation of children. The Waterloo School System gets a lot of things right, one of which is the focus on character education. The adults set the tone for the school community, and I think they would be the first to agree that actions speak louder than words. I fail to see how we can set high character expectations for our students while demonstrating this kind of unnecessary, punitive behavior."
- Erin Forrest

"No such thing as a free lunch:" Waterford School District sets new low in betrayal of students and taxpayers

Waterford School District to Taxpayers:
We opted out of the federal lunch program
because kids from struggling families
don't deserve a "free" lunch

In a staggering display of the most unconscionable and irresponsible local-level decision making possible, the Waterford School Board in Racine County voted this week to opt out of the federal lunch program, with no coherent plan for how to run their lunch program without federal funding.  

Think these ideas come from nowhere? They don't
The idea that "there's no such thing as a free lunch" is
a key concept employed by economist Milton Friedman,
mastermind of the school voucher program and
anti-government enthusiast, to convince
Americans that public schools somehow "steal"
from the taxpayer instead of invest in
the common good and benefit us all.
Friedman's 1995 essay for the CATO Institute,
"Public Schools: Make them Private,"
planted the seeds for all of the anti-education
legislation we see today, and the massive
investment in it by special-interest groups. 

Agreeing among themselves that "the FDA standards are going beyond where they should," the conversation is largely hijacked by one Dan Jensen, who argues early that "there shouldn't be any federal lunch program" and cites his "Libertarian standpoint," evoking the specter of Milton Friedman, to defend the idea that since he "doesn't have the right" to ask someone to pay for someone else's lunch, he somehow does have the right to deny local taxpayers of federal funds they support with their own tax dollars.  While they cite a decline in lunch participation and an increase in throwing food in the trash, board members betrayed their real reasons for opting out of the program in fairly short order (emphasis mine - see the full video and story here):
The Board was split on the need to offer a free and reduced program to low income students in the district. Dan Jensen stated he did not feel it was the district’s responsibility to pay for anyone else’s lunch (video 1 at 4:34). Jensen the went on to describe that WGSD could in the future determine the family income levels that qualify a student for free and reduced lunch and what they would be given to eat if they did.
Board member Dawn Bleimehl stated that she hoped that any free and reduced lunch offered by the WGSD “looks the same” as the lunch served to other students (video #2 at 3:57). Dan Jensen went on to disagree that a free or reduced lunch need to look the same and that as a youngster (in RUSD) he was not bothered by standing in a special line while waiting to receive his free or reduced lunch. He agreed it would matter to some students in WGSD, but felt that was the price those students have to pay for receiving a lunch paid for by others (video #2 at 4:40). Unfortunately, the district would then stand to lose many tens of thousands of dollars in Title funds because it would be much less likely to identify and document students from low income households.
The board is, in essence, robbing local taxpayers of the federal funds THEY help support because of a personal "belief" that students who can't afford to eat don't deserve to eat.  
 
As this local news report demonstrates, the district clearly has not thought through how rejecting nearly $40,000 in federal funds will allow them to provide any kind of lunch at all to students, or how they will manage an alternative plan for providing free and reduced cost lunch to low-income students. There's no back-up plan.  There's no discussion of how hunger will impact student performance and behavior. There's no accountability to district residents who rely on this program because their children could not otherwise access a healthy lunch.  There's no real concern for the impact of this decision on a substantial percentage of children in the Waterford District;  according to 2013 DPI data, at its most needy school, 31.5% of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. The high school is at the other end of the spectrum, with 12% of students eligible. 

This is precisely what happens when anti-child, anti-education people are elected to represent our schools.  When politics and personal opinion trump the educational success and welfare of our children, something is broken beyond repair. 


I hope the people of Waterford show up with pitchforks at the next meeting of this board.


And I hope they look hard at the spring ballot to make a choice that will matter in bringing some student advocacy to a board that clearly does not put the interests of students first.  

Waterloo knows this.  In the controversy over the "Lunch of Shame" policy, the upcoming school board election has hinged on the need to fight for more equitable and humane lunchroom policies in their district.  The April 1st election could decide that.

Think local elections don't matter?  Who's running for your school board on April 1st?

I know who's running for mine, thanks to SPARC's Local Election Guide and the efforts of many people in our community working to keep people informed and engaged.  If you don't have a group this like in your community, start one. We did. It was easy.  All it takes is a kitchen table and a desire to move forward.  We can even help you get started.  Just get in touch or connect with the Wisconsin Grassroots Network.

I hope every single person who cares about schools takes time to get informed. 

And vote.  

Local elections matter most.  What just happened in Waterford is a disgusting bit of proof.
 





Postscript, for the optimists: 
Meanwhile, here's what people who CARE about kids are doing in public schools.  The images to your right from the Provo (Utah) City Schools show what can be done to make affordable, healthy, delicious lunch within the parameters of the federal nutrition program by partnering locally and thinking outside the box (or can).

We can do so much better. 

Why is Wisconsin setting the bar so low, when we can reach so high? 

Our kids deserve better.

Our schools deserve better.

Get involved and let your community know what "better" means to you.







 



Rickert is Wrong: PUBLIC schools are the popular choice in Wisconsin

Chris Rickert of the Wisconsin State Journal posted a staggeringly and dangerously deceptive opinion piece this week: "Public school advocates dismiss popularity of vouchers at their own risk" (3/20/14).

In it, Rickert bases his entire argument on a laughable fallacy: the alleged popularity of vouchers in Wisconsin.  His absurd premise is this: Application of schools to participate in the program is up about 30% (to 68 schools this year, up from 48 last year) and application of students is expected to double this year.  Therefore, he assumes, if 2400 people applied last year, and that number is expected to double this year, the voucher program must be very popular. 

Let's put those figures into perspective.   There are 874,414 students enrolled in Wisconsin public schools this year.  If, as expected, the number of voucher applications doubles to 4,800 this year, that figure would represent 0.5% of public school enrollment in this state.


What's more, Rickert cites, and then ignores, data that shows how deeply unpopular vouchers are with the typical Wisconsin family: numbers from DPI demonstrate that the vast majority - 79% (!) -  of students who applied for vouchers to attend private schools this year already attend those schools.  If this trend continues, then only 21% of the 0.5% of voucher applicants statewide would represent new enrollment in the program.  If you like math, that means NEW voucher applications would represent 0.11% of the public school population in Wisconsin.

The question: by what delusion of editorial fantasy does a one-tenth-of-one-percent application rate represent "popularity?"

Which makes me wonder how Rickert has a job writing about anything, much less public education.

Despite state-wide expansion of the program, these infinitesimal application numbers tell us what we already knew through polling and public testimony: Wisconsin parents support, and want the state to invest in, public schools.  Not publicly-funded coupons to private schools.  Parents, overwhelmingly, want to keep their kids in local public schools and want to see those schools funded at levels that support all students.


Rickert also avoids what I think is a very telling bit of information in the new DPI data:  only 25 of the 48 schools participating in the statewide voucher program this year reapplied for next year. Of the 68 applications, 43 are new schools. This means OVER HALF of the current participating voucher schools in Wisconsin are opting out of the program!  Hardly an indicator of popularity, in my view, but hey.  I'm not the journalist here.

Further, Rickert's homework is shoddy at best and deceptive at worst.  He implies that vouchers are "cheaper" for taxpayers, and offers a distorted picture of the data, writing that Rep. Sondy Pope's "concern about shifting tax dollars from public schools to voucher schools seems misplaced, given that, on average, taxpayers spend about $5,000 more per public school student than they spend on a voucher," a figure he calculates (apparently; show your work, please!) by subtracting the voucher cost from the "total cost" of year-long education for a public school student.  This is very misleading. And it doesn't take into account at all the additional tax break Wisconsin parents are eligible for if they pay private school tuition. As the Wisconsin School Administrator's Alliance has pointed out:
Two recent memos by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) raise
more startling issues that should be of concern to all Wisconsin parents and
taxpayers. The first shows that while the average public school student in
Wisconsin receives roughly $4,900 of general state aid, the state guarantees
private voucher school students $6,442 in aid from the state and local school
districts. Over 80% of school districts now receive less than the guaranteed
voucher amount, and voucher advocates are pushing lawmakers to increase the
voucher guarantee to $8,000 or more.
[emphasis mine]
Rickert's stunningly simplistic assessment "A taxpayer-funded education at a private school is still a taxpayer-funded education," demonstrates not just naivete (or, less generously, willful ignorance) about the complicated formula that determines school funding, but a disturbing disrespect for accountability to the taxpayer. Private schools are subject to very little oversight or regulation and the lack of consistency (in terms of curriculum, staffing, financing, policy, etc) puts these "public" private schools, as Rickert would call them, in direct violation of the Wisconsin state constitution:
"The legislature shall provide by law for district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years; and no sectarian instruction shall be allowed therein." - Wisconsin State Constitution, Article X, Section 3
On the very day when this accountability is being pushed forward and debated in the legislature, Rickert chooses to move our focus away from the real issue and point it at a shadow: his peculiar delusions about the "popularity" of the program.

But, if you can believe it, none of this is even my biggest issue with Rickert's pseudo-analysis.  The fallacy that really pushed me over the edge was that in his larger attempt to besmirch "public school advocates" and voucher opponents, he lumps them together as a stodgy group of politicians and fools, resistant to change, and willfully ignores the reality: that the people most vocally opposed to vouchers in Wisconsin are the people most invested in defending quality, equity and accountability in both public and private schools - parents, advocacy groups, and education professionals.  

I count myself among that number.  I care deeply about protecting and defending our public schools, particularly against the threats of the out-of-state profiteers who have invested countless dollars into propping up "school choice" candidates and writing legislation that undermines public schools and steals tax dollars from the education budget to fund private education - including religious education.

And for that reason I wrote this letter to the editor to the Wisconsin State Journal. I'm reprinting it here because they edited the fire out of it in their print/online version and I think many of the key points are worth repeating:


Dear Wisconsin State Journal:

If Chris Rickert wants to pretend that giving people who can already afford private schools a coupon (voucher) AND a tax break is as valid an expenditure of tax dollars as any other "public education," then he should spend his column-writing time focusing on all the ways those "public" private schools must be held accountable to the public like traditional public schools are,  instead of maligning those who have been calling for such accountability.
Rickert fails to mention that "opponents" of voucher programs have been led most vocally not by politicians, but by the state's largest special interest group when it comes to education: PARENTS. 
Parents, particularly parents of special needs students, have spoken forcefully in support of our kids and our schools to demand accountability and equity in the voucher program. 
Voucher schools discriminate against students with special needs and have a track record of "counseling out" under-performing students - sending them back to public schools.  The local district then absorbs the costs educating these kids while the voucher school keeps the money.  Not exactly the "bargain" Rickert claims vouchers represent to taxpayers, and certainly not the "choice" parents thought they were getting. 
The system is set up to fleece taxpayers and our already-strapped public schools, at the benefit of the wealthy and the expense of our most vulnerable students. Rickert glibly glosses over the fact that 75% of voucher applicants already attend private schools, and fails to mention that even with vouchers, private schools are out of reach for the average Wisconsinite.
That Chris Rickert chooses to side with the billion-dollar out-of-state pro-"choice" lobby and ignore the legitimate concerns of the vast majority of Wisconsin parents and taxpayers makes me wonder why someone so willfully out of touch with education advocacy in Wisconsin has been entrusted with the extremely important task of writing about it.
Heather DuBois Bourenane
Sun Prairie

Note: This post has been updated to correct my math.  Forgot to move the decimal point.  Oops. I think the percentages are right now.  Thanks to Ed Hughes for pointing out the error!




Wisconsin Mom Redux: No excuses for candidate who claims autism is "punishment" for gays




Illinois congressional candidate Susanne Atanus and opponent David Earl Williams
source: Daily Herald/snipped here
In January, a Wisconsin parent absolutely skewered Illinois GOP candidate for US House of Representatives, Suzanne Atanus, for the US House of Representatives in Illinois. Atanus, in January, had said the following:

"I am a conservative Republican and I believe in God first," Atanus said. She said she believes God controls the weather and has put tornadoes and diseases such as autism and dementia on earth as in response to gay rights and legalized abortions.

The media frenzy that ensued, we assumed, was the nail in this nutjob's political coffin.  Or so we thought.

Today, I learned the unfathomable:

I'd like to take advantage of this moment to reshare the key portion of my original post, Wisconsin Mom Schools Illinois GOP candidate who claims autism and dementia are "punishment from God",
for the further review of anyone enteraining the possibility that someone so removed from reality is fit to serve the public. Carol had hoped her letter would get to every newspaper in the Illinois.  Apparently it wasn't heard over the noise of the Atanus campaign.  Time to make sure she's heard:
-------------------------
 
Carol Longton, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, was incensed by the callous remarks Atanus made about children with autism. 

Carol inboxed me immediately, sharing her outrage and that she was infuriated and in tears over the article and the callous comments. Carol shared a link to an article on her son, Jared, from the Green Bay Press Gazette.  Jared, who has autism, is a remarkable child who was featured in the paper for his unique tradition of celebrating his birthday by asking guest to his party to bring donations to local charities.  Carol took the remarks from Atanus very personally:
HOW DARE SHE say my child's condition is a punishment. He is a loving child who has a heart of gold. Guess his charity work means nothing if his family isn't rich and supporting the GOP.
After a brief exchange and commiseration, I got another message from Carol, saying she's taken her outrage to the next level:  "I have sent this [letter below] to every single Chicago newspaper as well as a few online sites - I am one ticked off momma right now!"

For the sake of Jared and every person living a rewarding, fulfilling life with autism, I share Carol's brilliant letter with you, and hope that every single paper she sent it to sees fit to print it on the front page. 

January 24, 2014
To Susanne Atanus,

I am writing to express my disgust concerning your views on autism, dementia, and our crazy weather. While I understand your right to free speech, I hope you’ll understand I have the same right and intend to scream from the top of the highest mountain.

I have a son who is now 12 years old. He is a gem and wonderful boy who, like his younger brother, is loved more than anything in this whole entire world by both of his parents. Jared is an extremely gifted student who excels at school, is a green belt in Tae Kwon Do (his jumping snap kick can break a 1” board), and every year on his birthday, works and donates all of his gifts to Happily Ever After No-Kill Animal Shelter. He is amazing beyond words and in his 12 years on this earth, has accomplished more than many others will in 20 or 30 years.

My son is also autistic.

How DARE you say my son’s condition is the result of God’s anger. How DARE you say my son deserves his autism because people in this world have an alternative lifestyle. How DARE you say God wants him to have the difficulties he has because someone else in this nation had an abortion.

Your views are blatantly ignorant, homophobic, vicious, and do nothing to show God’s love towards ALL human beings no matter how they live their life.

I hate abortion but I believe government has no place regulating a woman’s medical care. Do you honestly believe this is the cause of my son’s autism?

I am not gay but I support a person’s right to live their own lifestyle. Who am I to order someone to live a lifestyle that conforms to my personal beliefs? I may not agree with the way someone lives but I have no right to regulate it. Do you honestly believe this is the cause of my son’s autism?

Your political views have rocked me to my core. I am so unbelievably angry right now. Never have I been so insulted and blindsided by someone's ignorance. I am beyond sad and crushed that any human would feel my child is anything but a gift. This is a child with a heart of gold who wouldn't be cruel to anyone. All he wants is to swim with the dolphins, be cherished by his friends (thank you Max and EJ), take care of animals and become a veterinarian at SeaWorld, and succeed in Tae Kwon Do.

In the words of my best friend, Tracy: Our parents and grandparents with dementia and our children on the Autism spectrum are valued and precious human beings and not flawed or punishing to us.

Sincerely,
Carol Longton
Green Bay, Wisconsin

Update: Passports, Princesses and Priorities - Two Years Later

Two years ago, I spoke out to share my concerns about an ongoing student-run, Sun Prairie Area School District-sponsored event that is in clear violation of the district's anti-discrimination policy, which reads as follows:
"No student may be discriminated against in any school programs, activities or in facilities usage because of the student’s sex, color, religion, profession or demonstration of belief or non-belief, race, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, marital or parental status, homelessness status, sexual orientation or physical, mental, emotional or learning disability. Harassment is a form of discrimination and shall not be tolerated in the district. It is the responsibility of administrators, staff members and all students to ensure that student discrimination or harassment does not occur. (SPASD Policy JB)."
Since that time, I've had many productive, open and civil conversations with staff and administrators.  But little has changed.  While the faculty organizer has really done a great job of facilitating my concerns and trying to get the message to the students organizing these event, that message has not yet hit home in a way that satisfies the obligation of the district to follow, and model, its anti-discrimination policy.

Two years later, the changes to the DECA Father/Daughter Dance and Mother/Son Challenge events have been visible and well-intentioned, but as long as the titles of the events remain unchanged, these changes seem superficial and insincere (or, more cynically: an attempt at political correctness without being politically correct). You can see the updated descriptions of the events here:Father Daughter Dance Invitation 2014.pdf  and Mother Son Challenge Invitation 2014.pdf. The dance now includes the same challenges the boys get to do on their "special day".   And each application form now has a line like this in the FAQ:But it's cle "My daughter would rather attend the Mother/Son Challenge? That's wonderful! Please come!" "My son would rather attend the Father/Daughter Dance? That's wonderful! Please come!"  But it's clear by omission of the possible "options" that boys are not welcome to attend the "Father/Daughter Dance" (with Disney princesses) and that girls not really welcome to attend the Mother/Son challenge. I appreciate that the group has added a "family dynamic" section welcoming uncle/niece, mother/daughter etc teams.  One of my main concerns with the event was that it discriminates not just in terms of gender but by family status and in the highly problematic assumption that students can (and should) belong to a nuclear family with two-gender support.  But on the Father/Daughter Dance flier, NONE of the "alternative options" are a son/adult team and the flier stresses that "the high school students feel strongly about providing a special night for girls and a strong role model. However, please do what works for your family and what will make the night special for your child." Someone needs to help these students understand that you cannot pretend to be "welcoming" while directly stating that you "feel strongly" that the event is only of real value to girls (or boys, on the other flier).

Changing the language of the descriptions but keeping the old familiar titles (Father/Daughter Dance and Mother/Son Challenge) sends the loudest message of all: we are paying lip service to the idea of inclusion, but these events are for fathers and daughters and mothers and sons.  This sort of rhetorical duplicity is more offensive and psychologically damaging than simply excluding boy or girls altogether from the events.  The students who are organizing these events should be using this as a learning moment - to better understand the power of such language, the politics of exclusion, the impacts of gender stereotyping, and (above all) the legality of discriminating against students on the basis of sex, gender, and family status.  I don't think they can do that unless they change the titles of the events. 

Last year I reached out to the ACLU to see what action I'd have to take if the district refuses to make these student-organized events comply with the district's non-discrimination policy. I learned that's a big process and a big step, and one that I think could and should be avoided by cooperation and taking this issue seriously. I don't want to go there, but I'm starting to feel that nothing short of official action is going to make an impact here.  Every year I get more angry and frustrated with these events, as my own children are repeated exposed to this rhetoric.  Even though the staff advisor to the group has been very open to talking to me about my concerns, and has made significant efforts to make changes to the wording and address the issue, the changes have not resolved the core problem. Allowing the students to have the final say on this - even though that "say" is in clear violation of the anti-discrimination policy we find on nearly every single communication from the district, is problematic in so many ways. 

I haven't decided yet what I am going to do next.  I've asked to meet with the staff advisor again and hope to make more progress in sharing the impact of my concerns. But I may decide to file an official complaint with the district this year, since sharing my concerns with the organizers on an annual basis is getting tedious, even if they've been welcoming of the feedback.


But there's a better option.  That's where you come in.

Maybe other parents will join me this year in speaking out and sharing their concerns about the message these events are sending not just to the children in our entire district, but to the students in the DECA program who could be learning a much more valuable lesson than the one they are teaching my children.  What we need is some support from other parents and community members who agree that we should NOT be duplicating the stale stereotypes of the past to foster the leaders of the future.

These concerns do not have to be shared in an antagonistic or confrontational way - we are lucky to live in a district where our input is valued and where administration and staff take our concerns seriously.  But I do call on parents and others who share my concerns to reach out and speak up.  In the immortal words of Dr. Seuss: 





You can reach Ms. Hart-Olson, the DECA advisor, at sholson@spasd.k12.wi.us and the district administrator, Dr. Tim Culver, at tculver@spasd.k12.wi.us.

Here's to making a difference where it matters most: in educating our kids in the best ways we can.  

- Heather  

UPDATE #1: When I wrote to Dr Culver on 3/18/2014, he wrote back right away, cc'ing the HS principal, the DECA advisor and a couple of others urging us all to set up a meeting "to resolve this permanently." I like the sound of that!  Collaboration and productive dialogue is always the best way to resolve these kinds of issues, and I'll keep you posted on what comes of it.

But the bottom line: LOCAL ACTION WORKS. If you don't speak up, no one can hear you. 

--------------------

Update #2: I have an appointment 4/11 to meet with the DECA teacher/advisor, the HS principal, the athletics person and I think a "diversity" person from the district to discuss and (in the words of Dr. Culver) "permanently resolve" this issue. 

This is very promising and I'm looking forward to that conversation. If you live in Sun Prairie now is a really great time to send a note to Dr. Culver and Ms Hart-Olsen saying discrimination is never ok; so many parents have shared with me that they agree and there's nothing to fear in speaking out. They are both very nice and receptive to community input. We are sending a contradictory and dangerous message to our students when we sponsor events that promote exclusivity and stereotypes while we claim to promote a culture of inclusivity and belonging.


---------------------------------------


In the meantime, here's my original post, as relevant as ever on its 2-year anniversary:  

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

It's been a while since I had to post on the perils of gender-stereotyping and child-rearing, but I feel obligated to make this letter I recently sent to my school district an open one since this is an issue confronting many parents in many communities.  I don't at all enjoy sending these kinds of letters and, to be frank, I'm disgusted that I have to in 2012. 

We received an email on April 9, 2012 from our school district inviting us to two separate events: a father-daughter dance (for princesses!) and a mother-son challenge (for problem-solvers!).  While both of the events undoubtedly have merits in their own right, and I have learned since that the organizers might allow children of either gender to attend either event, the way they are juxtaposed and the wording on the registration forms makes crystal clear that boys only are to attend the problem-solving event (the form has spaces for "Number of sons" and "Name of adult") while only girls are to attend the Father-Daughter Dance.  While it seems one could bring a parent of either gender to these events, there's not really room for interpretation on which students are allowed to attend each event.  So unless your son wants a corsage and your daughter wants to sign up as a "son", I'm not really buying that these events are actually open to either gender. Everything in the language says otherwise.

As parents who hope to raise strong, confident, independent children, we feel we have enough problems dealing with social and political pressures that replicate gender stereotypes and sex-based discrimination without having to deal with the outright celebration of explicit gender bias in our schools.  This is our family's response to that message.  The original message from the district is below it; I left out the contact info for the program coordinator, as she is the advisor to a student group which organized the event - I want to make clear that my concerns are not intended to personally criticize this educator or her program.   I have since heard from the district and am pleased to report that they are taking these concerns very seriously and using them to reconsider how they might conceive of these events in the future, and how to use them as a teaching moment for the student-organizers involved in this year's planning.  The damage, however, has been done.  Just today my daughter received pink and blue fliers in her mailbox at 4K, inviting girls to dance and boys to be challenged.  The conversation on how to address this is difficult and necessary, and I'm happy to know I'll have a say in it.

I want to preface this post with a big caveat though:  we love our public schools and really have no major problems with our school district or its administrators, which is why I found this message all the more jarring, disturbing and unacceptable. I am not sharing our concerns here to attack the coordinators of this event or the district, but to raise a very important concern about how important it is that we hold ourselves accountable, and to a very high standard, for not reproducing stereotypes and gender discrimination that negatively impact our children and our community.  

To those who would argue that these are "innocent" events and no harm is intended, I'd like to point out that this message comes on the heels of our governor quietly signing away the Equal Pay Act, and a Wisconsin Senator publicly stating that the reason women make less money than men is that "money is more important for men."  Women in Wisconsin make 78 cents for every dollar men make.  Our schools should be doing all they can to help prevent this gap from widening as they prepare our daughters for the workplace.  Instead, the district is promoting "fun" and "harmless" events that seem in clear violation of its own non-discrimination policy, as well as State and Federal anti-discrimination law.

I encourage local parents who feel the same to share their own thoughts with the district administrator, Dr. Tim Culver. And I encourage parents elsewhere to look careful at the materials they receive from their schools and hold them to a high standard.  I hope that sharing the letter my husband and I sent prompts discussion, but more importantly that it encourages more parents to stand up and say that it's not acceptable, even if we have the best of intentions, to send messages to our daughters that they cannot compete intellectually with our sons.  I do not doubt that this message was sent "accidentally" - but that does not mean it was not sent, and the damage has been done.  If we want to change this, we have to start by voicing our concerns.  I hope you will share yours. Here are ours:

 9 April 2012
Dear Sun Prairie Area School District Administrators,

We are writing because we received an announcement from the Sun Prairie School District today inviting us to participate in two events, and we have very serious concerns about these events and the way they are presented to parents and children that we would like to share with you.

Let us say first that we appreciate the efforts of the District to organize fun events that bring the community together, encourage participation of families, and provide affordable activities for students to attend.  We are active members at our neighborhood school and always look forward to participating in these events. We also know that a lot of time and effort goes into planning them, and we are grateful to have such a dedicated and caring staff in our district.

We do not understand, however, why these two specific events are designed and coordinated around gender stereotypes and gender discrimination which seem at odds with the District's policy and platform of inclusive neighborhood schools.  According to the District's non-discrimination policy, which is the first thing we see in our Elementary School Handbook, "No student may be discriminated against in any school programs, activities or in facilities usage because of the student’s sex, color, religion, profession or demonstration of belief or non-belief, race, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, marital or parental status, homelessness status, sexual orientation or physical, mental, emotional or learning disability. Harassment is a form of discrimination and shall not be tolerated in the district. It is the responsibility of administrators, staff members and all students to ensure that student discrimination or harassment does not occur. (SPASD Policy JB)."  It is unclear to us how these gender-restricted events do not violate this policy.

Our daughter will not be attending the "Father-Daughter Dance" because we do not think this is an appropriate or necessary way to bring parents and children together for a school-related event. If you're going to leave education out of it altogether, why not have a Family Dance where mothers, fathers, sons and daughters could all participate and enjoy a fun and fancy event together? We understand and respect that Disney princesses are very popular, but our family chooses to try to avoid these highly unrealistic and offensive stereotypes and support a nurturing environment where our daughter can grow up to be more than a "princess" whose main objective in life is to marry a handsome prince. We would expect (and even demand) that her school would be the one place we could count on to help us encourage her to have higher aspirations as well. Instead, she is encouraged to "bring a camera."

Even more disturbing, however, is the juxtaposition of this event with the "Mother/Son Challenge," which sounds infinitely more fun, interesting and engaging for kids of any gender. For this event, boys are encouraged to bring their moms (or a "favorite adult") and use their brains to solve puzzles that allow them to complete a passport, win prizes and have fun.  Both our son AND our daughter would love to do this, just as our son, minus the "Disney Princess" elements, would love to attend a family dance. But what kind of message does it send to our kids and our community that while the girls are twirling about and getting their photos taken with the Disney Princesses, boys are completing problems and exploring the high school? By pairing these events together in such a way, you are sending this message. And we do not accept it.

$10 will buy our daughter a corsage, or it can buy our son a passport.   We'll take the passport for both of them, please, and we hope that the District will carefully consider the lasting and dangerous implications of organizing events around dated stereotypes and gender biases.  Our district claims to have a policy that does not discriminate on the basis of gender, but these events not only discriminate on that basis, they actually teach our kids to discriminate on that basis, and solidify tired, outdated stereotypes that have no place at all in our schools, much less our century.

We hope that you will take our concerns seriously, and pass them on to others who may be involved in planning such events.  These stereotypes are damaging enough in themselves, but compounded even further when one considers how many kids in our schools live in single-parent homes or have non-traditional families and are therefore automatically excluded or alienated from such events. We are confident that many other parents share our point of view and would rather have the District promote and organize events for the entire family than events that encourage discrimination and reinforce dangerous and damaging stereotypes.

Yours sincerely,
The Bourenane Family




Dear Parents and Guardians of Boys & Girls in Grades 4K - 5,

Reservations are now being taken for the Annual Father-Daughter Dance to be held Saturday,  April 21st, 2012 from 5:30 -7:30 pm.  The "Disney Princesses" will again be at the dance, so make sure you bring your cameras!!  Tickets are  $10.00 in advance which includes one child. $2.00 for each additional child – this includes a raffle ticket, snacks, drinks, & a corsage for each girl.  Information and the RSVP form is available on the district website.

PLUS, this year there's a special event for moms and sons, too with the Mother-Son Challenge Day.   This will also be held Saturday, April 21st, but in the morning from 9-11:30 am.
Boys in grades 4K – 5 are invited to a day of fun with their mom or favorite adult.  The child/adult team will travel to different parts of Sun Prairie High School solving problems and completing puzzles. With each completed station, the team receives a stamp on their passport and will be entered to win prizes! 

Tickets for the Mother-Son Challenge are also $10.00 in advance which includes one child. $2.00 for each additional child – – this includes a raffle ticket, snacks, drinks, & a flag for each team.   Information and the RSVP form is also available on the district website. The link for the Mother-Son Challenge is here .

Thank you and we hope you can attend one of these great events!