Dear Trustees and Dr. Ryan,
This will be brief because I do not have great faith in the prospect of some of you being able to focus your attention for longer than a few paragraphs.
First, to Jorge, Becky, and Coley, I want to say a heartfelt “thank you”. You have fought a long, difficult, and thankless battle against corrupt interests that are bitter, wicked, and stupid. I am certain this is not what you signed up for when you answered the call to public service. You are blameless in this matter and the marginalized students and staff you have so bravely shielded and stood up for will be forever in your debt. No one would think less of you should you decide to throw in the towel for a fight that seems impossible to win. Because you are individuals of compassion and character, I know that you won’t. Jorge, please tell your son I say “Hi” and that I am immensely proud of him. The three of you may stop reading now as I wish you a pleasant day. Godspeed and good luck.
To the rest of the board, I feel an introduction may be in order. My name is Clint Von Gundy nee Bland. I was educated in GCISD from first grade through twelfth. I was identified as G/T in first grade and was eventually named a National Merit Scholar at Colleyville-Heritage. My mother taught in GCISD for the majority of her thirty-eight years in education and still lives and votes in the district. When she retired, she was proud of the time she spent at Bear Creek, Grapevine Elementary, and Colleyville Middle. No more–but we’ll get to that in a moment. My sister and brother-in-law are current residents of and voters in the district. My niece and nephew both attend elementary school in GCISD. When my sister and brother-in-law bought their house, it was primarily because they knew GCISD would provide an excellent education for their kids. No more—but, again, we’ll get to that in a moment.
My own investment in GCISD did not end when I graduated. I returned as a teacher at Heritage Middle, charged with instructing G/T English classes and AVID. I also designed the district’s Creative Writing course. Eventually I was named the first Humanities teacher at ASPIRE Academy’s middle school campus at Cross Timbers. All told, I spent five years in GCISD and still count my time at ASPIRE as my favorite job. (The vanguard class recently graduated and I doubt they will willingly divulge their alma mater ISD given the disrepair it has been forced into by the outside influence of a band of wealthy West Texas goblin people.) I worked for a few years in Richardson at central office coordinating secondary gifted services and then did a stint at Region 11 as their gifted and talented/advanced academics consultant. I now serve as the director of professional learning for a private educational consulting firm that holds equity in advanced academics as its North Star. I know the concept of equity may cause your skin to tingle uncomfortably, but bear with me…
To put it as succinctly as possible, I know of what I speak. So let me speak clearly. I apologize in advance if I use too many big words or make too many references you don’t understand given your comically dim comprehension of literature and history.
My mom once asked me if I would ever consider returning to GCISD. I had to laugh at that one. You see, I’m an out and proud Gay man. I would never risk my excellent professional reputation or the wonderful life I have built with my fiance in order to return to a workplace where at any moment I could be accused of being a “groomer” by a member of the board’s new out and proud majority of bigots and buffoons, where I could be put on a secret undesirables list by a dumber version of the Stasi. I would, frankly, rather sit on a knife. I receive messages almost daily from old friends on staff at GCISD looking to get out, to go literally anywhere else. They used to love the district; now they live in constant terror of the whims of a group of four subliterate Philistine know-nothings who debase themselves at the alter of dark money and only read (or had read to them, more likely) the parts of the Bible where God piles up the doom and gore.
Casey, Tammy, Shannon, and Kathy, is the chip on your shoulder heavy? Should I buy you all a big wooden cross for Christmas so you can nail yourselves to it? You have each grasped far above the level of your own competence. To paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, of whom the four of you are no doubt fans (even as the complexity of his writing doth passeth your own limited understanding): HIDE YOUR HEAD IN A BAG!
You have brought shame to a once great institution, rendered it a national laughingstock. I would tell you to repent now, but one supposes that will do little good. So I simply ask that you resign. Retire to your McMansions and let the children of GCISD and the adults who actually care about them get on with the good work of building a more peaceful, prosperous, sustainable, just, and humane world. Don’t force what’s at the bottom of your own rotten hearts onto a public that simply wants to live and let live, to see their children and community thrive. Don’t let the individual at last night’s board meeting who made threats of sexual assault against his enemies be your bannerman, your sadistic weirdo mascot. Don’t rut in the slop of your own perfidy, malice, and cowardice so joyfully.
Plato teaches us that all democracies are inherently and inevitably at risk of collapse. Once ignorance and hatred seize the levers of power, it is only a matter of time before societies sign their own death warrants, self-cannibalize, and vote (and botox) themselves into oblivion. Casey, Tammy, Shannon, and Kathy, I fear the four of you have gleefully taken up the mantle of the executioner. You seem all too rabid to be first among equals in the ranks of the gravedancers. You have wrapped tragedy in travesty and brought it down on the heads of your most vulnerable constituents.
There is that old pop psychology saying: hurt people hurt people. I hope whatever invisible and imagined wounds the four of you are nursing at the public’s expense heal soon and that you learn to love quiet contemplation, hermitage, and obscurity.
Casey, Tammy, Shannon, and Kathy, you may stop reading now–if you got this far; I understand you have troubles with email.
Finally, to Dr. Ryan: I met you personally for the first time on what was my very first day of teaching in GCISD. We were introduced by Pete Valamides, possibly the kindest human being on the planet. I am sorry that your twilight years in the profession must be so consumed by such venality and cruelty. You must have seen it coming though, must have known that the “Good Ole Boy” network would never really work to retain or fight for some semblance of the “good” when faced with its own extinction. I looked up to you, sir, and in many ways I still do, but you must work so much harder to confront and expel the poison that has taken hold in GCISD.
Sir, I have asked the board majority to hide their head in a bag. Please don’t hide your head in the sand.
Have a blessed day.
So here I am again emailing the school board on a Saturday, instead of heading to soccer games and brunch like many in our community. However, I needed to get this off my chest after reading the proposed policies being voted on Monday's board meeting. I will not be in attendance due to work, but I do have a few things to stay:
1. Stop perpetuating fear and hate in our community. The language in many of the new "policies' are written with such ignorance and fear that it would be laughable if not so damn devastating. They include many underlying assumptions that have been proven to be false and dangerous. For example, that exposure to education around sexuality will sexualize children or prime them for grooming for abuse. The exact opposite is actually true because when shame or secrecy is associated with sexuality it makes sexual abuse much more likely. It alsokeeps victims silent because they dont have the language or words for what is happening to them. This is why some of the most horrific examples of abuse are in religious institutions. The current investigation into the Southern Baptist Church's rampant sexual abuse ( https://www.npr.org/.../how-the-southern-baptist...) is an example of how often those most vocal about "morality" or inhibiting conversations around sex are actually more likely to be groomers and pedophiles. There is no connection between identifying as LGBTQ and sexual abuse, except that members of this community are more likely to be victims of sexual exploitation than their straight peers.
2. Which brings to me my next point, these policies are designed to be cruel and divisive. I know that for some members of the board this is point. To specifically address use of pronouns or create bathroom policies, is targeting the most marginalized kids in our community. LGBTQ students have higher rates of suicide, especially when they are not supported or feel safe at school. If enacted, you have put a target on their back. You have said that their safety and worth is not as valid as their peers. I have worked as a social worker for 17 years in Tarrant County, and at one point operated the only emergency youth shelter in our area. The number of LGBTQ youth that ended up in our care because their parents that had kicked them out for being gay was heartbreaking (and many of these were from the NE Tarrant County area). Homeless and runaway youth are also some of the most vulnerable to sex trafficking. Imagine hating gay students so much that you would knowingly put them at increased risk for death and sexual exploitation. That is what you will be doing on Monday if you vote these policies into action. And if that isn't enough, you are seeking to prohibit teachers from being safe people for those students. When these parents kicked out their kids out for being gay or abuse them, it was frequently school staff that saved those kids and supported them by connecting them to our services. But again this board majority seems to show little regard for anyone but their powerful donors.
3. The censorship of instructional materials and the new obstacles being proposed to approve books in classrooms is utterly ridiculous and reeks of fascist ideology. The limits on freedom of speech and discussions about our nation's history is beyond ironic given that some of you pretend to support limited government control. I have never seen a board so willing to use their governmental power to override the rights of parents and educators. To use this position to force your beliefs and ideas on every member of a public educational system and silence any differing beliefs. It is actually pretty terrifying. I come from a long line of conservatives in my family, and this board's overreach is their worst nightmare.
4. Is this the time to make teachers job more difficult and stressful? Are you even paying attention to the teacher staffing crisis? When GT and SPED services are being eliminated and blamed on "staffing issues", this board has decided to push through polices that add more to their plate and assume the worst. It almost feels like you take joy in running teachers out of district. It also sounds like you are saying that you are more qualified than our experienced and dedicated educators to decide what is appropriate for students. Which is incredibly insulting given that it appears none of the "majority" have education greater than a bachelor degree, and none of those are in education or library science. Kicking people while they are down is the epitome of being a bully. Stop bullying our teachers.
5. Finally, shoving a new school board election policy into this agenda is pretty telling and cowardly. You want people making decisions in our community even if they dont receive a majority of the vote? Is that because you dont think the majority of the community will support this toxic board and their lack of transparency and ethics? Or just another example of making changes because you legally can?
Lastly, for the board members that disagree with these policies, please be vocal on Monday night. We know your jobs are incredibly difficult right now. We see how the board president treats his colleagues in public meetings, and I cant imagine how much worse it must be when people aren't watching, Moms are not pleased with this behavior and would never allow our children to behave in the way this new board majority acts. We will demand better leaders and role models, but in the meantime, please dont give up fighting for our kids and for decency to come back to GCISD. We see you, appreciate you, and will fight like hell to win this community back from the divisive powers that are trying to tear us apart.
Thanks for your time. Please vote against these polices on Monday night.
Below is an extrememly important letter to the school board from a community member. As we sit here on the eve of the school board almost certainly passing policies that are detrimental to students, especially already marginalized ones, we must step up to support students and staff.
Dear Members of the Board:
I have been a part of the GCISD school district since my oldest child began kindergarten in 2003 and will continue to be affected by district policies until my current 7th grader graduates from high school. As I read the upcoming planned changes in the school board policies, I am devastated by the impact it will have not only on my child, but for the many other children in the district who are marginalized. Therefore, as a parent and a licensed social worker, I feel I need to speak out for the children impacted by these decisions.
Our family is a bit unique, as our youngest child is a different race from the rest of our family due to adoption. It is truly devastating to learn of the research outlining how much more difficult it will be for her to achieve success as compared to my older two children. Just to give a few examples, listed below are just a few of the studies outlining the racial disparities.
I share these examples to emphasize that our schools are not immune from racial bias and inequality. Pretending these issues do not exist and presenting a “whitewashed” version of history while forcing teachers, students, and administrators to avoid these topics not only brings about more stigmatization but also serves to alienate those who are marginalized by its very existence. Furthermore, it produces students who lack the knowledge and crucial critical thinking skills that will be necessary to recognize and eradicate racial and economic disparities that exist throughout our country.
The other issue that I would like to address is the changes regarding the treatment of students who are LGBTQIA+. Again, I am extremely disappointed that the board appears to be targeting yet another marginalized population, especially considering the increased bullying and negative mental health implications resulting from schools that are unable to foster a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQIA+ students. According to the Texas Tribune, LGBTQIA+ students in Texas often feel unsupported and targeted within their schools and identified the following issues:
As a social worker, I have witnessed the despair and loss of life associated with marginalized LGBTQIA+ youth and have supported grieving parents and siblings devastated by the loss of their precious children. Statistically, LGBTQIA+ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers (Johns et al., 2019; Johns et al., 2020), and among transgender youth, 56% reported a previous suicide attempt and 86% reported suicidality. (Austin et al., 2020). If schools refuse to acknowledge a transgender student’s gender identity by prohibiting them from updating unofficial school records, such as attendance sheets, student IDs,
yearbooks, etc., with the name and pronouns that reflect the gender they live every day, it can severely impact the student’s ability to learn and thrive at school.
According to Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez, “Politicians meddling in education, banning books, targeting students based on their race or gender or religion really has a direct impact on the bullying, harassment, and violence that we see in our communities every single day,” Martinez said. “Last year … from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2021, there were more than 10,800 [contacts] from Texas students to the Trevor Project, because they were in crisis. And part of the reason why they [were] in crisis was because their humanity was being debated...”. Researchers at The Trevor Project have also found that LGBTQIA+ youths who reported having at least one LGBTQIA+-affirming space, such as a school, home, or workplace, were significantly less likely to attempt suicide. Why would GCISD not want to be a place where ALL students feel accepted and valued?
In addition to the mental health considerations, the new policies, especially the ones targeting students identifying as transgender, are in direct violation of many existing statutes, and subject schools to liability under federal antidiscrimination and privacy laws. Discrimination against transgender students violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). 1 Courts have recognized that deliberately refusing to address transgender individuals by the name and pronouns consistent with their gender identity can be a form of sex-based harassment under state and federal anti-discrimination law. 2 In addition to violating federal antidiscrimination law, refusing to change school records can violate federal privacy laws by revealing the student’s transgender status. Students have the right to share or withhold information about their sexual orientation and gender identity under the federal Constitution 3 and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”).4 As NASSP advises, “transgender status, legal name or sex assigned at birth is confidential medical information and considered ‘personally identifiable information’ under the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA). Disclosure of that information to other school staff or parents could violate the school's obligations under FERPA or constitutional privacy protections.”5
As the school board trustees move forward with the agenda on Monday evening, I implore each one of you to strongly consider the negative impact of the proposed changes and ask that you put ALL students first rather than political ideology or fear. The physical and emotional health of marginalized students should not be ignored, and GCISD schools should provide a safe and affirming environment so that all students may flourish and succeed.
1 See, e.g., Whitaker By Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified Sch. Dist., 858 F.3d 1034 (7th Cir. 2017) (holding transgender student likely to succeed on the merits of his Title IX and Equal Protection claims against his high school’s policy barring him from using the boys’ restroom); Dodds v. U.S. Dep’t. of Educ., 845 F.3d 217 (6th Cir. 2016) (school denying transgender students access to restrooms corresponding with their gender identity not likely to succeed on appeal under Title IX).
2 See, e.g., Doe v. City of New York, 976 N.Y.S.2d 360 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2013) (holding that a transgender woman had sufficiently alleged discrimination under state sex discrimination law when the state HIV/AIDS Service Administration continued to address her by her former male name and male pronouns); Burns v. Johnson, 829 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2016) (plaintiff’s allegations, including employer’s purposeful and condescending use of the pronoun “she” to a male transgender employee, supported a reasonable inference of discrimination on the basis of sex); See also OCR Instructions to the Field re Complaints Involving Transgender Students, Dep’t. of Educ. Office for Civil Rights (June 5, 2017), https://assets.documentcloud.org/.../OCR-Instructions-to... (“refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred name or pronouns when the school uses preferred names for gender-conforming students or when the refusal is motivated by animus” is an example of gender-based harassment).
3 See Love v. Johnson, 146 F. Supp. 3d 848 (E.D. Mich. 2015) (state’s unduly burdensome policy for changing sex on driver’s license or ID violated the Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses); Sterling v. Borough of Minersville, 232 F.3d 190 (3d Cir. 2000) (holding officer's threat to disclose arrestee's perceived sexual orientation violated their constitutional right to privacy); Bloch v. Ribar, 156 F.3d 673, 685 (6th Cir. 1998) (“Publicly revealing information [about sexuality] exposes an aspect of our lives that we regard as highly personal and private.”); Powell v. Schriver, 175 F.3d 107, 111 (2d Cir. 1999) (“the Constitution does indeed protect the right to maintain the confidentiality of one’s transsexualism”); Eastwood v. Dep’t of Corr., 846 F.2d 627, 631 (10th Cir. 1988) (right to privacy “is implicated when an individual is forced to disclose information regarding sexual matters.”).
4 See Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 C.F.R. §§ 99.00 et seq. Disclosure of private information related to sex or gender can also violate sex discrimination laws. See Roberts v. Clark Cty. Sch. Dist., 215 F.Supp.3d 1001 (D. Nev. 2016) (disclosure of private information about employee’s transgender status in an email established a prima facie case for harassment/hostile environment under Title VII’s sex discrimination prohibition).
5 NASSP, Position Statement on Transgender Students (2016).