Public school often hold a district-wide “back-to-school convocation” for all staffers, in a central location, so that the superintendent can speak to everyone in person. For that to happen, you need a space that can accommodate hundreds, if not thousands, of people. A local megachurch is sometimes the only option. That might be legal depending on the circumstances, but only if there’s no proselytizing taking place.
Last year, Lee’s Summit School District in Missouri held their event at nearby Abundant Life, an evangelical church that promotes anti-gay bigotry. (They preach that “homosexuality is a perversion.”) There’s no indication that Christian hate was spread during that meeting, but it left a bad taste in the mouths of many teachers. They said as much in a survey sent out by administrators.
And then they learned that a similar event would take place at the same location this Wednesday.
Remember: This is a mandatory event for teachers. They can’t skip it.
But this time, teachers figured out how to push back. Instead of protesting, which wouldn’t work, they would encourage teachers to wear “Pride attire” to the church: Rainbow shirts, gay pride stickers, buttons and pins that express pro-LGBTQ sentiments.
Why not? It’s not like the church could get mad since this was just a business transaction of sorts, right?
The plan was quickly organized on Friday, with many teachers saying they would gladly express their support for the people cast aside by these Christian bigots — and the pressure grew large enough that the district has now decided to move the event to the Lee’s Summit High School field house. Success!
[District spokeswoman Kelly Wachel] said the district opted to move the convocation because “we don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable,” and officials wanted to be sure teachers knew “we are listening.”
“As we made the decision to host our convocation in-district, it was important that we took time to listen and seek to understand,” Wachel said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “We are very much in tune to the sentiments and feelings among our staff and our community and this decision allows us to honor multiple voices.
“This does not diminish our gratitude to Abundant Life for their willingness to host our staff, this decision simply seeks to acknowledge multiple perspectives and honor them. We are thankful for our teachers who chose to engage with us in conversation and we hope these conversations can be a demonstration of our commitment to strong personal relationships as the foundation of what we represent.”
What a pathetic statement.
If they wanted to avoid discomfort and let teachers know they were listening, they wouldn’t have scheduled this event in a church at all. It’s not like the church’s beliefs were a secret, and it’s not like teachers’ views weren’t already known to administrators. If anything, the decision to move the event suggests the district was more concerned about upsetting church officials than offending teachers.
Still, it’s the right move. You have to wonder why they didn’t consider the field house earlier if it’s suddenly acceptable now.
I would add — as a former teacher who had to sit through these meetings — the district would be better off just skipping this meeting and letting teachers prepare for the new school year on their own. Literally no staffer needs to hear anything from a superintendent in August that can’t be expressed via an email.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)