Milton Schools Update: Face-to-Face Meetings Bring Positive Change
Much has happened since we first posted about Ginny Gaffey and her daughter in Milton, MA. What started as an unfortunate incident of schoolyard bullying has developed into a full-scale review of diversity and harassment intervention policies within the Milton school district. I know a lot of you have been following this story in the Greater Boston press and online at the Family Equality Council blog and others, such as Mombian, Bilerico and the Huffington Post. As someone who coordinates the Family Equality Council’s safe schools work and has been part of the team here guiding Ms. Gaffey through this process, I wanted to give you all and update on what’s happened. If you’d like to catch up on the details of the incident itself, you can do so by clicking here.
Since Ms. Gaffey contacted us, we’ve worked with her to provide resources to the Milton School Committee (the local school board) on LGBTQ family inclusion and to establish a “next steps” plan with the superintendent. Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, attended a school committee meeting with Ms. Gaffey. The committee was scheduled to review their conflict resolution curriculum, called Second Steps, in light of what happened to Ms. Gaffey’s daughter.
The meeting was productive. Among other things, a committee member recognized that Second Steps, while generally a good approach at preventing conflicts between students, doesn’t do enough to address underlying causes of conflict, such as bias toward and ignorance of different kinds of families.
The next morning Jennifer and Ms. Gaffey attended a meeting with the superintendent. This meeting was also productive, in terms of creating positive change for LGBTQ-headed families in the Milton schools. The superintendent has agreed to add the all-important “association with” clause to their nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies. “Association with” is shorthand for the wording necessary to cover people who are discriminated against or harassed because they are related to or otherwise associated with someone who is LGBTQ. Generally speaking, this language is necessary to protect the children of LGBTQ parents and straight allies in schools, especially around gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
The superintendent also agreed to conduct a school climate survey, with input from the Family Equality Council and others. The survey will assess the attitudes and competencies around family diversity in the Milton schools, and will include parent respondents. Additionally, the superintendent offered to check the school system’s library holdings for books that represent and address LGBTQ-headed families. Where there are gaps, she said, they would be filled.
In terms of openness to policy change and positive steps forward, the Milton schools are now on track. Of course there is always more work to be done, and the Family Equality Council is glad to have helped open doors that can lead to further change. I should note that there is still disagreement between Ms. Gaffey and officials within the Milton schools over exactly what happened to her daughter, especially around the issue of homophobic bias. And while it would make for a much better situation for all parties involved if we agreed upon the details of the incident, we can be satisfied that a good, solid working relationship has been established where one could easily not have materialized.
Ginny Gaffey can be proud that her tireless efforts to secure her daughter’s safety will result in a more positive climate for LGBTQ-headed families in her entire district.
Tomorrow morning the Family Equality Council will convene a meeting of child welfare advocates with interest and expertise in cases involving LGBTQ-headed families from the Boston area to discuss further action in the Milton case. As a national organization, we’re excited to continue this work locally, learning valuable lessons to help us replicate successful parent/advocacy organization intervention in schools nationwide. On a personal note, I want to thank all of you who’ve been following this case and sending kind words to the Gaffey family via blog comments, emails, etc. The outpouring of support – both locally and beyond – has made a world of difference to Ginny and her daughter, who take heart in your concern.