Thursday, August 23, 2012

A School That Ignores Its Diversity Statement

A few days ago, I drove past Cherry Tree Elementary School, one of the elementary schools in Carmel (about 2 miles from my home). As I drove past, I noticed numerous signs in the school’s yard and along the drive, including by the entrance to the school, advertising Boy Scouts. If I recall, the signs said “Boys Join Scouts”. Well, I was troubled by these signs. (Note that when I drove by the school again last night [after writing but before posting], the signs were gone; I’m pretty sure that they were there over the weekend. Nevertheless, the issues remain worth discussing.)

As I see it, by allowing these signs to be posted on its property and grounds, Cherry Tree Elementary School was, in essence, advocating for Boy Scouts and encouraging students to join that organization.* So what’s the problem, you ask? Simple. First, recall that Boy Scouts has previously litigated for the right to discriminate against homosexual scouts and scout leaders. Then, following a two year review of the matter, the Boy Scouts announced, just a few weeks ago, that they were standing by their policy of excluding gay scouts and scout leaders.

Now, with that in mind, please read the Carmel Clay Schools Diversity Statement that is reprinted in the Cherry Tree Elementary School Parent Handbook:


The Carmel Clay school community is dedicated to fostering an environment which promotes education and well-being regardless of ability, age, appearance, gender, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. All educational programs, activities, and interactions are enriched by celebrating uniqueness as well as commonalities. Respect for human diversity will be encouraged, followed, and enforced by the Carmel Clay schools.

Now do you see the problem? Carmel Clay Schools and Cherry Tree Elementary School want to foster an environment that promotes education and well-being regardless of sexual orientation. Moreover, the school system and school explicitly note that “[r]espect for human diversity will be encouraged, followed, and enforced…”.

So what message is sent to gay students about respect for them? The school wants to foster a good environment regardless of sexual orientation and will enforce respect for human diversity … you, know, as long as that respect doesn’t have to extend to gay kids (or gay parents).

Take a step back and imagine that the organization in question wasn’t Boy Scouts but, instead, the Young KKK which had an explicit prohibition on African American members. Or imagine an “Pro-American” organization that forbid membership by Latinos. What if the group was the “Young Scientists” that taught kids physics and chemistry, but prohibited membership for those who openly espouse belief in the existence of a deity? I suspect that you’d feel a lot less comfortable about the school having signs for those organizations placed on school grounds. Shouldn’t the same concern apply to a group that expressly discriminates against gay children?

The Boy Scouts can make the decisions that they want to. I think that they’re wrong and I think that organized discrimination like that exemplified by Boy Scouts should be shunned. But that isn’t the issue here. Rather, the issue is whether a public school — especially one in a school district with an expressed diversity statement that includes sexual orientation — should be providing explicit (or even implicit) endorsements for or assistance to organizations that expressly and proudly violate the core of that diversity statement.

I don’t think so.

*Perhaps the school didn’t know about the signs and didn’t approve of their being placed on school grounds. But once the school saw the signs on school property and did not promptly remove them (and they were there for at least a few days), then the school “owned” the endorsement reflected by the presence of the signs. Think about it. If you walk out to get the newspaper one morning and see 5 political signs for a candidate that you don’t support or signs advertising a business that you don’t patronize, aren’t you likely to remove the signs?

Update (August 24, 2012): Please see the follow-up post A School That Ignores Its Diversity Statement … Because Federal Law Requires That It Do So posted after receipt of information from the Carmel Clay Schools administration in response to this blog post. As you will see from that follow-up post, my criticism of Cherry Tree Elementary School was misplaced because the school was acting in accordance with applicable Federal law. I apologize for the misplaced criticism, though I do believe that the conflict between the law and the diversity statement is an issue worthy of discussion.

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