An Op-Ed by Reed Mueller, a Waukesha South Sophomore
I attended the school board meeting on September 15 to speak against Superintendent Sebert's letter to the teachers of the district ordering them to take down all "political signs" in our school’s classrooms, which apparently includes the signs in classrooms which welcome all LGBTQ students at Waukesha South.
Watching as both students and teachers shared their stories about experiencing or witnessing homophobia over the next hour was heartbreaking. I have great admiration for the strength of everyone who spoke about their personal experiences with discrimination, as well as those who made excellent points towards the Board as to why the superintendent’s policy was hypocritical and unfair.
I walked out of the meeting with my view on the matter more solidified than ever.
“The School District of Waukesha states on its official website that it ‘does not discriminate in its admissions, programs, activities, employment and services on the basis of sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation… or any other reason prohibited by state and federal regulation,’” said Sam D’amico, a freshman at South and a regular at School Board meetings, “So why does the superintendent’s policy contradict that of the board and the district?”
This website explicitly states that LGBTQ people cannot be discriminated against. Therefore, by all logic, LGBTQ safe space signs should not be included in the removal of political signs. However, some statements made by Board Member Anthony Zenobia at the end of the night made me incredibly concerned with the stance that the Board is taking on this issue.
“I believe that these signs are one thing. I don’t think they go far enough. I think there are still points of persuasion and indoctrination in our books and in our curriculum,” said Zenobia, who approves of the removal of LGBTQ safe space signs, arguing that not only the signs but other facets of our school are “overly politicized.”
He followed that with, “We heard a student say tonight that they cannot walk into one of our schools because it is by definition an unsafe space. If that is the view our students have walking into our schools, I feel hopeless that our schools are broken, and maybe unfixable.”
Zenobia seemed to be taking a resigned approach, saying that if students truly believe they are unsafe it cannot be fixed, when in reality, if students feel this way, action is required more than ever, and action certainly does not begin by taking away the signs which let them know which classrooms are safe zones.
Zenobia later said, “And I hear so many students say that bullying is an issue at this level that so many of them are afraid to go to school; what in the world is going on? Is this really happening in our schools? And not just from one perspective, I’m sure we can get speakers to say the exact opposite of what we heard today.”
To answer Zenobia’s questions, yes. The truth is that bullying is making students feel threatened in schools because of who they are, which is why they felt it necessary to come and make their voices heard. Zenobia claimed that other people could have spoken at the meeting (they did not) saying “the exact opposite of what we heard” (which, I suppose would be that no LGBTQ person has ever been bullied?). This argument is ridiculous. He is basically saying that because there is a chance that other people may disagree with these victims of bullying, the bullying did not happen. That's not an argument, that's ignoring the truth.
I can only hope that the School Board will support the right decision, which is to keep the LGBTQ safe space signs and prevent LGBTQ students from feeling any more unwelcome at our schools. The safety of our students is not a political viewpoint, it's a right.