Record editorial: School district should stand its ground as anonymous group wages misleading attack

The Park City School District, it seems, is not inclined to be intimidated.

In the face of wide-ranging, misleading accusations from a group opposed to a program at Trailside Elementary School that teaches educators how to foster inclusivity and prevent bullying, the district is standing up for its values.

The group, distorting some facts and ignoring others, claims the program is thinly disguised sex education for students and has gone as far as calling it “LGBTQ indoctrination.” In response to a cease-and-desist letter from the group’s attorneys, the district sent a letter of its own to parents reiterating its support for the program, called Welcoming Schools, as well as the vulnerable students it is ultimately meant to help.

School officials are right to stand their ground.

The district, as noted in its correspondence to parents, has a responsibility to provide a safe environment for all students. That includes ones who have LGBTQ parents or who are LGBTQ themselves — students who can be easy targets for bullying or exclusion.

Welcoming Schools counters bias-based bullying by educating teachers about how to embrace diverse families and answer questions from students about family diversity in an age-appropriate way. The program does it well enough that it’s used by many other districts in Utah and throughout the country. In fact, the program at Trailside — consisting mostly at this point of a 2 ½-hour professional development session for teachers in August — was administered by an official with the Utah State Board of Education.

Regardless of Welcoming Schools’ merits, though, any parent who has apprehension about the program has the right to speak up, just as they might question the math curriculum or a reading assignment or anything else that involves their child’s education.

The problem — or one of them — is that the opposition group, which claims to represent parents of Trailside students, has gone about raising its concerns in a harmful way. The group has hid behind the veil of anonymity and sought to drum up support by sending out emails loaded with extravagant claims to parents and other community members under the moniker Stop Welcoming Schools Utah.

We encourage the group to instead come out of the shadows and participate in an open community discussion in which the district can appropriately address any valid concerns about the program. That would doubtless be more productive than the cloak-and-dagger approach.

It’s telling that the group has hitched its wagon to the Pacific Justice Institute, whose chief counsel is a signatory on the cease-and-desist letter sent to the district on the group’s behalf. The organization bills itself as a nonprofit dedicated to the legal defense of religious freedom and parental rights but has for years promoted an anti-LGBTQ agenda and has been labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

In one of the anonymous emails Stop Welcoming Schools sent to community members, it states that its members are not bigots and are instead merely interested in preserving their right to raise their children as they choose. That could be true. But as the saying goes, you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.

And in this case, that says plenty.

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