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DANBURY Schools to start LGBTQ staff training

October 11, 2018

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’ pre-scheduled 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 Kings Street Intermediate School.

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

Justice Network leaders first 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 continued. “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 chastise that as a “bad” word, 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.”

There are several free training resources 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 later this school year.

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

zach.murdock@hearstmediact.com

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