Summit School District leaders defend inclusionary LGBTQ resolution following ‘aggressive’ public meeting
Around 100 people showed up to the meeting and some spoke against LGBTQ-friendly learning during a Jan. 12 meeting. District officials called some comments threatening and discriminatory.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Rodolfo Mendiola’s name and to correct the number of people who spoke in opposition.
Following a public meeting Jan. 12 in which roughly 100 people gathered before the Summit School District Board of Education to address the district’s commitment to LGBTQ inclusion — especially for younger students — district leaders defended the policy and said they felt some comments were threatening and discriminatory.
Those who spoke during the meeting’s public comment period said they were concerned about a resolution the school board unanimously approved in October that sought to reaffirm part of the district’s equity policy — passed in May 2021 — which acknowledged systemic barriers in education for marginalized communities and pledged to do more to include and represent those communities while in the classroom.
Superintendent Tony Byrd, who spoke with the Summit Daily News the day after the meeting, said the public comment “absolutely got more aggressive than I’ve ever seen in this district and frankly more aggressive than I’ve seen in my career.”
Byrd stood by the district’s commitment to equity and inclusion, adding: “We have a district theme of ‘we belong.’ We want every single student to feel included in our system, and the LGBTQ community is one of many communities that don’t feel included.”
The October resolution, which did not legislate any new policy outside of what was already established in the district’s equity policy, came as a response to concerns that the Colorado State Board of Education could vote to keep omissions it made to references about LGBTQ people as well as communities of color and other groups in its social studies standards for public schools.
Roughly a month after the resolution passed, the state board voted 4 to 3 to reinstate references to those communities.
Crowd demands revoking ‘clearly controversial’ resolution
Speakers on Jan. 12 demanded board members rescind their resolution and refrain from teaching anything related to gay, queer and transgender identities to Kindergarten, first, second and third grade students.
“This clearly controversial resolution was passed unilaterally by the seven members of the board without considering input from parents, community members or our significant Hispanic community,” said Lindsay Ryan, who said she is raising several children in Summit County.
Ryan said an online petition on Change.org to revoke the district’s resolution has garnered over 1,000 signatures. Byrd said while he respects the efforts, he does “not know where those signatures are actually from.”
Public commentators said they took issue with the board pushing “extremely progressive views” onto students and “excessively focusing on social issues” over academics.
“There is a group of people who thrive on a perpetual feeling that they are in a fight for justice. It’s an obsession,” said Danielle Surette. “Educational leaders are leaning into these grievances and encouraging them instead of teaching resilience.”
Several speakers also criticized the district for allowing students to learn about the LGBTQ community from a young age, with some conflating such representation with sexual education.
Lindsay Spurlock, who said she has a child in kindergarten and second grade, told board members “it is completely inappropriate for children in grades (kindergarten) through three to be exposed to sexuality discussions,” which was met with applause from the crowd. Spurlock also said, “many parents in the community don’t understand the purpose of this resolution.”
Byrd said it is not true that the district is teaching sexual content to its youngest students. Those discussions, he said, begin in fifth grade when it is “age appropriate.” He also said the district is not demanding pronoun identification of its students, which he said some parents have alleged.
Liam Macreery, a senior at Summit High School, was the lone speaker to voice support for the district’s resolution and said it’s an important step for the district to take toward a more inclusive community.
“I have seen a lot of really terrible things … I have seen how people like myself have been pushed to the side,” Macreery said. “This district has not had the best history, but I am very much looking forward to the future.”
District leaders had ‘worry’ about ‘safety of the board’
Following Macreery’s comments, speakers became tenser while public applause for them became louder.
One commenter, Rodolfo Mendiola, who also said he is a parent in Summit, told the board that students don’t want to be a part of “this gay club” and said board members “should be fired” because of the resolution, which was met with applause from the crowd. He also accused Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado’s first openly gay governor, of pushing gender- and sexual-inclusivity education onto schools and said it was because Polis is gay.
The comment spurred Board President Kate Hudnut to interject and said what Mendiola was saying violated the district’s public comment policy. Mendiola talked over Hudnut, telling her, “you, be quiet” and that she works “for me” which was met with several applause from the crowd.
Mendiola also told Byrd to “shut up” after Byrd told him he had 45 seconds left to speak before his allotted two-minute time was up. At least one member of the crowd could be heard yelling “let him speak” in support of Mendiola.
Hudnut, speaking with the Summit Daily days after the meeting, said she felt unsafe during the interaction, adding it was the first time she’s “looked for where the exit was over my shoulder.” Byrd also said, “there was worry from me about the safety of the board.”
Hudnut said she is concerned “about physical and mental safety for my fellow board members and students in the room and students and parents online” who were watching the meeting. Hudnut said she knew some in the crowd were not parents in the district or county and does not believe the comments represent the vast majority of what district parents believe. The uproar is part of a larger, state and nationwide political movement, Hudnut said, reaching far beyond the boundaries of the county.
Hudnut said the board would be looking into its safety and security measures for public meetings in the coming weeks. She also said the board may have to increase enforcement of its public comment guidelines after hearing comments she said “absolutely were homophobic.
“What was extremely concerning for me was the cheering and jeering that happened after those comments,” Hudnut continued.
Byrd also said felt some of the rhetoric was homophobic and discriminatory and said he’s met with several parents and students who support the district’s resolution. He said he can also understand other parents’ concerns but added, “we have to aim to come to a place of calm and understanding.
“The stand that we’re taking,” Byrd said, “is that identifying as LGBTQ+ is not controversial. As a human being, you should not be considered controversial because you don’t identify as the dominant identification.”
While he acknowledged some of the academic challenges facing the district such as its test scores — which caused the district to temporarily drop in its accreditation status before it was restored last month — he said addressing socio-emotional wellbeing was vital to the district’s success.
“It’s a false dichotomy, that it’s one or the other,” he said. “I just feel, in general, that people, no matter how they identify, do better in life when they feel included. My hope would be that people continue to open their minds to perspectives that are different from their own.”
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