Editor’s Note: Web-Editor Isla Riddell is a member of the Hillsborough Gender Sexuality Alliance. Here she shares her reflection of a recent meeting with the Superintendent on July 30, 2021.
Sitting at a makeshift round table made from multiple tables, I kept anxiously checking my watch. Social Studies teacher Laura Wells, Tammy Nguyen, GSA Sponsor Francis, GSA President Kevin Vondruska, and GSA members Ivy Buton-Akright, Aaron Roche, and myself sat alongside two students from Bell Creek Academy and GLSEN representative Leanne Klumb. The ten of us were told that our meeting would be at 11:30 and we arrived early, nervous but eager for the opportunity to discuss LGBTQ+ issues in the school district with Superintendent Addison Davis.
First, Chief of Equity and Diversity Monica Verra-Tirado entered. She introduced herself and began to make small talk, all while the clock still ticked. About ten minutes went by until Chief of Staff Michael McAuley came in. McAuley repeated what Verra-Tirado had done — he introduced himself and continued the small talk.
By this time, it was reaching 12:00 and there was still no sign of Davis. It was at this point McAuley told us that this meeting was scheduled for 12:00 on Davis’s calendar, even though we were told it was at 11:30. This meant that our promised hour of time with him faced the chance of being cut to only thirty minutes. Despite the apparent time differences, he was still late by both accords, showing up at 12:05.
Davis entered with a cheerful demeanor, joking with his colleagues about how he had spilled water on himself just before he entered the room. As he sat down, he made it clear that he had to leave at 12:30. The cut of time meant that not only did some students not speak, but it also meant that some students like myself barely got to share any of our points with him.
The meeting started with each of us introducing ourselves. And when asked if it was okay to record, Davis declined and insisted that I stick to just taking notes.
Once introductions were done, students shared their experience with bullying and unsuccessful reporting of said bullying. Throughout all of the gut-wrenching stories and statistics, Davis kept a straight face and repeatedly responded with “that’s not okay” and phrases of the sort. He repeated the notion that if you “see something, say something.”
After a student shared an experience that led them to no longer trust a teacher who they believed to be someone they could turn to, Davis responded by saying, “I hurt because you feel that you don’t trust teachers.”
Francis introduced the idea of mandatory training for teachers titled “Creating Safe and Welcoming Environments for LGBTQ+ Students.” It covers everything from language to curriculum to resources. The course was developed by them in 2019 and while they’ve been teaching it quarterly for the district, it’s only voluntary.
“Educators do not get training like that in their teacher preparation program and I told Davis that we have the power to offer this. I developed it, I facilitate it already, so why not make it mandatory?” Francis said.
Davis, McAuley, and Verra-Tirado agreed that there needs to be mandatory training and workshops for teachers and administration on how to appropriately help LGBTQ+ students. However, when Davis was asked just how he plans to implement these, he was unable to properly answer and just repeated that these trainings need to be mandatory in order to successfully help students.
And that’s where the meeting ended. While Verra-Tirado was adding on to what Davis had said, he quietly got up and snuck over to where McAuley was. Once Verra-Tirado finished, McAuley announced that he and Davis had to leave for their next meeting. So at 12:36, it was once again the ten of us with Verra-Tirado, who gathered our contact information and continued to speak with us until 12:55.
Despite Davis’s leaving words being “I’m all in,” his responses during the meeting seem to contradict himself. While he did show sympathy towards the negative experiences of the students and even insisted that we could email him directly when we faced or saw any type of bullying, he still struggled to outline an explicit plan. Time and time again he agreed that there needs to be mandatory training, but never said how he plans on making that training mandatory and how he’ll make sure to enforce the lessons of said training.
We walked in with low expectations and unfortunately left with those expectations met. While we knew he wasn’t going to give us the straight answers we were hoping for, we were surprised when Davis said that he wanted to continue to meet with us quarterly to continue the discussion.
Maybe next time he’ll be on time.