Parents, students press Waukesha School Board to allow LGBTQ+, inclusive signage in classrooms

NOW: Parents, students press Waukesha School Board to allow LGBTQ+, inclusive signage in classrooms

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) - Some parents and students in Waukesha want the school district to overturn a policy that bans welcoming and inclusive signage in classrooms.

Tuesday, Oct. 13, they rallied outside the school board meeting. Melissa Bushman, one of many parents in the Waukesha School District upset, says the signage makes minority students feel welcome.

"They're in essence, politicizing our students' existence," Bushman said. "Anything with a rainbow is not being approved to be put up in the schools."

Bushman said LGBTQ+ and anti-racism signage had been up in classrooms for years. She said the students she spoke with say taking them down makes them feel excluded.

"Students don't learn well in those types of environments. They need to be supported," she said.

Bushman said the district also decided to “pause” equity and diversity development work. An online petition to get the district to overturn these decisions has more than 3,700 signatures.

Bushman also said since these directives were announced, there have been documented incidents of hate against LGBTQ+ students.

"I just hope that the board and administration can hear our voices and do the right thing," Bushman said.

A full house turned out Wednesday night to press the Waukesha School Board to overturn the policy removing the signs. 

Dozens of parents, students and community members held rainbow flags in the parking lot.

"It's hard to believe that this is an issue at this point. Students should feel safe. They should feel welcome and that's what the signage tries to get across," said parent Ben Mendel.

When asked what their reaction was to the superintendent's actions, Kris Nestingen-Palm said, "Stunned. Not able to quite figure out what the motive was, what is scaring him and what is scaring those who oppose signs."

"There are definitely teachers that are being reprimanded, being told that they can't put up these signs that have been here for more than 25 years," said student Samuel D'Amico.

Nearly every parent who addressed the board Wednesday pressed them to put the signs back in classrooms. 

Others argued classrooms need to be free of anything other than learning.

"I would like to thank the district for the new policy regarding signage," one parent said. "I believe children should not be bringing their sexual preferences, political ideology, gender identities to school. These are outside controversial issues and should be left at the front door when they arrive to school."

Deputy Superintendent Joe Koch said the district started having problems with kids wearing certain symbols last year.

"We had a number of people put up Black Lives Matter, Thin Blue Line, Blue Lives Matter, those signs were starting to appear in our schools," he said.

He said it was causing distractions between students during the day.

"We wanted to make sure that we were taking any political, advocacy type things out of the school environments," Koch said. "People posturing against each other, at school, in the hallways."

But counseling offices are still allowed to maintain Safe Space signage so students know there is an adult ready to talk.

"The signage has come into question recently, but in practice, students are supported on a day-to-day basis," Koch said.

Koch also said the district Equity and Diversity Team was put on pause this summer because of questions about the type of material being taught. He said staff is still training through a different program instead.

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