Park City School District rejects demands in Welcoming Schools cease-and-desist letter
In official responses sent last month, an attorney for the Park City School District rejected the demands of a cease-and-desist letter regarding the teacher training program Welcoming Schools, writing that the district is prepared to defend itself if sued.
“We initially reject many of the factual and legal assertions set forth in your letter and believe that you are misinformed about the nature of the Welcoming Schools program,” the district’s legal counsel Joan Andrews wrote in an initial letter Oct. 17. In a second letter 12 days later, she added, “should you follow through with your threat of litigation, the District is fully prepared to defend its actions to-date.”
The letters, recently obtained by The Park Record, were sent to Trevor Casperson, an attorney representing an anonymous group called Stop Welcoming Schools, in response to a cease-and-desist letter Casperson’s law firm sent to the district Oct. 15.
Stop Welcoming Schools claims to represent parents of schoolchildren in the Park City School District and has referred to Welcoming Schools as “an LGBTQ indoctrination program and sex education program” for kids as young as 4.
The district counters that Welcoming Schools is a state-sanctioned anti-bullying program that helps teachers promote equity and deal with challenging situations and questions from students. Teachers at Trailside Elementary School requested additional support at the end of the last school year to deal with bullying and name-calling, district officials have said.
Trailside staff received one, 2 1/2-hour training session entitled “Embracing Family Diversity” last August and had planned for a second training in March that would have focused on bias-based bullying, according to Utah State Board of Education equity and advocacy specialist Holly Bell, who conducted the training.
Welcoming Schools is one of many professional development trainings offered by the state at little or no cost to school districts to help them comply with requirements to conduct anti-bullying trainings, a spokesperson for the state Board of Education has said. The program is a subsidiary of the Human Rights Campaign, which is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve LGBTQ equality, according to its website.
The cease-and-desist letter made two demands: that the district stop the implementation of Welcoming Schools and that the district remove all Welcoming Schools materials from district buildings, including posters and books.
The district rejected both demands, with Andrews writing that no decision had been made about whether or not to proceed with the March training, but that the district may continue to use Welcoming Schools as long as the state continues to offer it at minimal expense.
“The District is not wedded to the use of any particular ‘branded’ training materials,” the letter states. “Rather, its interest is in providing low-cost, high quality training regarding the elimination of bullying behaviors and the creation of welcoming school climates….”
As for removing materials, Andrews wrote that the limited number of posters at Trailside Elementary contain “completely innocuous images of a school bus and school children of varying colors.”
The cease-and-desist letter asserted that “students cannot unsee” the program’s “propaganda.”
“The posters do nothing more than promote the idea that Trailside Elementary is a warm, welcoming, happy, environment where students are free to learn,” Andrews wrote.
In an interview last month, Casperson claimed the program amounts to sex education and preempts parents’ rights to have conversations about aspects of human sexuality with their own children. The cease-and-desist letter claims that there is no effective opt-out measure for parents if teachers are employing the training they received.
“(Students) cannot un-hear the gender-neutral language that is in use by teachers,” the letter states. “How can students ‘opt out’ of their interactions with teachers?”
Bell said the training focused on giving teachers strategies for dealing with complicated situations and did not address pronoun usage.
At a community meeting in late October that drew dozens of people, no one seemed to question the need for anti-bullying training, but some asked whether it should be focused on the LGBTQ community. Others suggested the district switch to a less controversial program after Welcoming Schools had grown so divisive.
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