NEWS / CONTEXT

GSA Network on Implementing the FAIR Education Act
Karen Ocamb
5/24/2013

On May 17, California Gov. Jerry Brown went to Humphreys Avenue Elementary School in East Los Angeles to push his new “Local Control Funding Formula,” a plan to shift resources to the state’s neediest students and restore local control over how money is spent in schools, according to a press release from Brown’s office. 

“We’re here because we want to see California prosper, and we prosper by how we treat and invest in our kids,” Brown said. The plan outlines how the $70 billion allocated for K-12 in the budget’s May Revision  (go to tinyurl.com/anhf5j6) would be used to increase flexibility and accountability by giving local bodies control over money earmarked for state-mandated programs and strategically adding funding for needy kids—specifically low-income students, English learners and foster youth. 

 

“Now is our chance to make progress towards the promise of equal opportunity,” said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy in announcing his support. 

Fulfillment of that promise largely depends on updating school instruction, a framework for which must be developed for history and social science by June 30, 2014,” according to U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism’s online publication, Oakland North.

“The current standards are from 1998,” Rebecca Baumann, a legislative aide in the office of Sen. Loni Hancock, who first proposed the bill, told Oakland North. “In basic textbooks, there is no mention of 9/11 or Barack Obama. Teachers have to use supplemental materials.”

Before the history textbooks can be revised, however, codes and standards must be brought up to date. “GSA  [Gay Straight Alliance] Network and Our Family Coalition are working with the California Department of Education to ensure that updated curriculum frameworks and standards comply with the updates to the education code under the FAIR Education Act,” Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of GSA Network, told Frontiers.  “In the meantime, we have urged the California Department of Education to distribute a list of supplemental curricular materials and lesson plans that schools can use to comply with the FAIR Education Act. These resources have been compiled at gsanetwork.org/fair and faireducationact.com.”

Apparently the state board listened, because on May 8 it unanimously passed an update to the Social Content Standards to include a section on sexual orientation and gender identity. (Go to tinyurl.com/b5xmogh). The key passage reads, “In addition to providing positive school experiences and encouraging students’ aspirations, instructional materials should reflect a pluralistic, multicultural society composed of unique individuals. The Education Code sections referenced in this document are intended to help end stereotyping in instructional materials by showing diverse people in positive roles contributing to society. Instructional materials used by students in California public schools should never portray in an adverse or inappropriate way the groups referenced in the laws. The laws require that instructional materials portray accurately and equitably the cultural and racial diversity of American society; the male and female roles; and the contributions of minority groups, the disabled, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals and males and females to the development of California and the United States."

But compliance with the FAIR Act requires persistence, watchdog vigilance and plans to push for local agencies to allocate funding for programs under Brown’s new budget plan.

“GSAs across the state have been working with teachers and administrators to ensure that the FAIR Education Act is implemented in their schools,” Laub said. “Our Statewide Advocacy Council, a group of approximately 20 youth leaders, has made implementation a priority this year and helped in the development of several resources for students to use in their schools.”

Laub cites Caitlin Owens-Garrett, a student on GSA Network’s Statewide Advocacy Council, as an example. “A junior at Sanger High School in the Central Valley, Caitlin strategized with her GSA advisor at the beginning of the school year about how they could ensure Sanger followed the updated education guidelines. They started by publicly celebrating LGBT History Month, educating teachers about the law and showing them that LGBT people are a part of American history. Soon Caitlin’s U.S. History teacher approached her and asked for her help in putting together a presentation for the class about LGBT people in history. Her teacher not only gave the presentation in class but also sent it out to the entire history department to use.

“We’re at a pivotal moment in the LGBT movement, and it is essential that we invest in our young people now. While attitudes are changing and youth are leading the way, we’re still failing our young people on the most basic levels,” Laub concluded. “LGBTQ youth—and particularly low-income LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ youth of color—face enormous challenges simply to stay in school and get an education. We must address the lack of funding for education, biased policies and administrators and the systemic criminalization of youth if we are to continue the movement for social justice and equality for all LGBTQ people.”


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