Request for West Chester LGTBQ student information raises concerns – Daily Local
WEST CHESTER — A request from a resident of the West Chester Area School District for information about LGBTQ students at her schools has left some parents perplexed and upset, as the national debate over the identity of gender and school age children seems to have surfaced in Chester County.
“I don’t trust what would be done with this information,” a relative said of the request, in an interview last week. “And I don’t think it’s anybody’s business. It’s a process that could snowball.
During the public comment period at a recent West Chester Area School Board meeting, East Bradford resident Jenifer MacFarland spoke about questions she has about the suitability of the book ‘Gender Queer: A Memoir” in district school libraries, and whether or not there is a need for this “kind of genre” in schools.
To determine whether the award-winning book – an illustrated novel by a young person coming to terms with their gender identity that also serves as a guide for those in similar circumstances – should continue to be available in schools, MacFarland said she needed data on LGBTQ students in the district over a period of several years.
“I don’t think that data, those numbers, is something that we should be hiding,” MacFarland told school board members as other members of the public gasped at his request, made in a formal request for the right to know that she handed over to the board. “In fact, they should inform the decisions that we make (on) these types of programs that we put in place.”
MacFarland’s comments were applauded by some in the Fugett Middle School audience at the end.
But it has been criticized by others, who have called the demands intrusive and potentially dangerous for LGBTQ students at West Chester schools.
“It’s insane,” said Laura Patarcity, an East Bradford mother of three local high school students who attended the Feb. 28 meeting at which McFarland addressed the council. “It’s a violation of children’s privacy, and I question its legality. It’s not the kind of data a district can or even should keep.
Another parent who attended the meeting and later viewed McFarland’s comment on a streaming video of the board meeting said the information, if provided, could lead to an ‘exit’ from vulnerable young people who have sought to keep their identities private.
“I fear this is a reckless disregard for student safety,” said Stephanie Anderson, who lives in West Goshen with her husband and two school-age children. “I don’t know why she would need those numbers. Some of these children have not come forward to their families, and this information could be dangerous. »
“This is part of a national movement to ban books and limit the voice of the LGBTQ population,” Anderson said.
Attempts to reach MacFarland by phone last week were unsuccessful. Phone numbers associated with him had been disconnected and a message left for his company was not immediately returned.
On Friday, a West Chester District spokeswoman, Molly Schwemler, said McFarland’s right-to-know request was reviewed by the administration and was granted in part and denied in part.
His request for a list of the percentage of LGBTQ students in the district was denied, as was his request for the number of referrals of LGBTQ students to guidance counselors over the past 20 years, Schwemler said. “These recordings do not exist, so we will not pass them on,” she said.
She said the district had provided MacFarland with data on how many times “Gender Queer” had been pulled from the three high school libraries in the past, but not broken down by grade level. She said the book is not available at the three colleges in the district.
The book was subject to review by the District Book Committee, made up of various stakeholders, and in which MacFarland is said to have participated. Schwemler said the committee would make a recommendation to the board or its education committee on whether to keep the book in circulation in the near future.
Schwemler did not provide a copy of MacFarland’s right-to-know request to the Daily Local News, saying some information should be redacted before doing so. She emphasized that the district remains committed to supporting all students, regardless of their life circumstances.
“As in all things, our mission statement guides WCASD in creating and sustaining a school community that provides the education and support necessary for all of our students to achieve their personal best,” a- she said Friday in a statement. “We take seriously our responsibility to foster welcoming school environments that meet the academic and well-being needs of all our students, regardless of their experiences, self-expression or background.”
“Gender Queer” has become a flashpoint for debate over the role schools play in serving LGBTQ students, with conservative voices demanding it be removed.
Earlier this year, two northern Virginia school districts banned the book from being transported to their school libraries, after concerns were raised about the graphic novel’s depictions of sexual contact, masturbation and a sex toy. .
The action of these school boards in Fairfax and Loudon counties also comes as gender identity and homosexuality are under attack from Republican politicians in states like Texas and Florida, where the legislature has passed a bill last week to ban teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten. until third year, rejecting a wave of criticism from Democrats that he marginalizes LGBTQ people.
According to published reports, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said challenges against books with LGBTQ and race-related content have traditionally been “constant” this year and that they had seen a “chill”.
Books that have been challenged in recent months include classics, such as Toni Morrison’s ‘The Bluest Eye’, and modern works, including George M. Johnson’s ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’, a young adult memoir detailing the trials of being a Black Fagot Boy.
But crucially, Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” has become a rallying cry for parents, school officials and lawmakers in at least 11 states — from solidly red Texas to reliably blue New Jersey, according to dispatches.
MacFarland has had a long career in education. She was a home economics teacher for eight years before becoming principal of Avon Grove Charter School. She eventually became an educational consultant and is now listed as a co-owner of a local home improvement and interior remodeling business. In 2015, she ran unsuccessfully for Kennett Square Borough Council as a Republican.
At the board meeting, MacFarland complained that when she asked an administrator for data on LGBTQ students, she said it was necessary to determine whether “Gender Queer” was appropriate for students. school libraries, she did not immediately receive these figures.
“That begs a question,” she said in the advice video. “It doesn’t speak well of the West Chester Area School District that it failed to respond to a ratepayer’s requests for data. He asked about the desire to be transparent and open.
The number of LGBTQ students in the district “should be public information,” she said.
But both Patarcity and Anderson have pushed back against the idea that the public has a right to know the number of LGBTQ students.
“It’s dangerous to demand that the school provide information about anyone’s children,” Patarcity said. “Why do they need this information? I want our schools to be safe and secure.
To contact editor Michael P. Rellahan, call 610-696-1544.