MDE: Stop Using Transgender Students' Suicide Rates as a Prop to Avoid Budget Cuts
As a parent of transgender child, I am shocked and disgusted to see gender diverse children's rates of bullying and suicide used as a budget prop by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). Education Commissioner Cassellius should not be speaking about our students' outcomes unless she is going to address their suffering.
In a MinnPost community voices Op-ED, the Commissioner made the case for continuing the status quo regarding support for LGBTQ students. She cited their alarming rates of suicide and self-harm as one of the reasons to maintain the School Safety and Technical Assistance Center's (SSTAC) funding. Last November, we learned that transgender and gender diverse students have the worst outcomes of any demographic measured on the Minnesota Student Survey. Commissioner Cassellius is claiming that these students can't afford to lose momentum on the progress that has already been made.
But what evidence supports her claims of progress? How has the SSTAC made a difference in these students' school experiences? How has the SSTAC responded to these crisis-level outcomes for transgender and gender diverse students?
Unfortunately, there is no progress to report. Since the student survey data became available last November, and despite concerted efforts by advocates for gender diverse students, no changes have been made at MDE. There is no indication that these students are more safe now than they were 3 years ago.
What's wrong at the SSTAC?
This lack of progress is due, in part, to the SSTAC failing to do their job as outlined in the Safe and Supportive Schools Act. Here are some of the ways the SSTAC is not fulfilling their obligations:
1. Chaired by Commissioner Cassellius, an appointed council is supposed to provide oversight to the SSTAC. This council does not fulfill this requirement. The minutes available online show that they have not met in 6 months. When they do meet, barely more than half of the 23 members attend any given meeting. The commissioner has missed the last 3 meetings.
2. The SSTAC does not have any data to show that they have effectively or appropriately been serving as the single-point of contact for schools, parents and students. They have not collected any information that would suggest their technical assistance has resulted in a positive outcomes for students who have been bullied or harassed. This is an explicit requirement of the Safe and Supportive Schools Act.
3. None of the SSTAC staff members have ever held a position where they were responsible for handling student discipline or responding to bullying/harassment in a school. Why would life-long educators or administrators call SSTAC staff for assistance when they are more qualified to handle it on their own? Why would parents ask non-educators about issues involving nuanced educational practices?
4. The SSTAC has failed to provide schools with evidence-based guidance on supporting transgender and gender diverse schools. A special task-force completed a model guidance in October of 2016. Six months later, why hasn't MDE released the model policy? Why haven't they announced when the policy will be available so that school districts can plan accordingly? The dissemination of best-practices is also explicitly outlined in the Safe and Supportive Schools Act.
MN's transgender and gender diverse students can't wait any longer to get what they need. Call and email Commissioner Cassellius to tell her that the status quo is not working.
Brenda Cassellius, Commissioner
Call or email the School Safety and Technical Assistance Center and tell them you expect the model gender inclusion policy to be available to MN schools before the 2017/2018 school year!