Following weeks of community and region-wide backlash after a school board directive to have faculty remove “Safe Space” stickers from their classrooms, the Grain Valley School District held a community outreach listening session on Wednesday, June 1st.
About 100 community members turned out for the event, sat at tables of six with a discussion facilitator at each table. As part of the school district’s requirements for this event, each participant had to reside or work within the Grain Valley community. Several involved were middle school or high school students who were able to share their personal experiences at schools each day and their own position on the issues at hand.
One student was Michi Diaz, an incoming eighth grader in the Grain Valley school system.
“It went well. I really liked seeing others point of view… a lot of people changed their views… there were two students speaking about what happened at their schools,” Diaz said.
Although Diaz wished to speak to school board members about issues personally, the event was overall a positive experience.
Michi’s mother, Cindy Kirby-Diaz, also attended the event and thought that the small group format was productive and enabled participants to listen to one another throughout the evening. Kirby-Diaz remarked that she and Michi came to the event for the “safe space” stickers but the conversation morphed into talks about inclusiveness and sense of belonging for all students, not just LGBTQ students.
Conversations such as these could be heard all around the room once Susan Brott, the event facilitator, gave the opening signal. At the opening of the session, Brott went over guidelines for participants that included confidentiality for all those involved. Before giving the okay to start, she reminded everyone, “this is not a debate, it is a dialogue. The goal for tonight is not to change people’s minds.”
After Brott’s remarks, the event was kicked off with discussions and conversations across the room for the full 90 minutes allotted.
Another participant was Melissa Riordan. Riordan said she has two kids in the school district but noted they are in elementary school so they don’t fully understand the issues at hand and are not included in the surveys or focus groups, though she hopes down the road they will be included and participate in those.
“I had no idea what to expect [of the event]. I thought it went really well, it ran smooth, and when they asked questions everybody was respectful,” Riordan said.
She also thinks that if the district does more events like this that there is hope for change.
“We won’t really be on the same page since there are a lot of different perspectives, but this provides a respectful forum to talk.”
She says she hopes in the future “we all can have a little more patience with each other and we can appreciate differing viewpoints.”
Many of the discussion facilitators at each table were school district faculty or staff members like Cara Long. Long is a counselor at Grain Valley South Middle School and she came to the event to listen to parents, community members, students, or even fellow faculty and staff members concerns or ideas about the issues.
She said the conversations at her table were “excellent. Everyone contributed, had their voices heard, and they valued the time they got to share their opinion.”
Although most of Long’s table agreed with one another and had the same opinions, they were open to other points of view.
She also said that the discussion “focused on the stickers a lot, as expected, but it wasn’t just that. It was also overall students feeling accepted and having a safe space at school.”
Deputy Superintendent Dr. Brad Welle said, “Our goal for the evening was to provide an opportunity for community members to be heard,” before adding that the goal was to also to “gather input to help inform decisions affecting school climate for students.”
Welle also noted that he was pleased with how many different viewpoints there were and how they all listened to each other respectfully.
As the evening drew to a close, Welle ended the event with a promise. He promised all participants that the district would look at all the data gathered at the event and address each of them by email about their plan for next school year.
Brott also urged everyone in attendance to hold Welle accountable to his promise and make sure he comes through.
The next chance for community members, parents, and students to voice their concerns to the school board directly will be at the next meeting on June 23rd.
Correction: Initial article listed next school board meeting as June 16th. Article corrected 10:10am 6/2/22 to corrected date of June 23rd.
Members of the community gathered for a listening session hosted by Grain Valley Schools on June 1st. Photo credit: Cole Arndorfer