Grain Valley Schools to host listening sessions on LGBTQ ‘safe space for all’ signs

Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 10:28 PM CDT
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GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. (KCTV) - An uproar over a local school district pulling down LGBTQ-friendly signs has the district rethinking its approach.

On Monday, a small group of students protested the removal of rainbow colored “safe space for all” signs that were hung in some classrooms. As the day went on, the backlash grew on social media. On Tuesday, Grain Valley Schools sent a statement saying the feedback on their sudden decision has prompted them to host listening sessions on the matter.

Some of the reaction was intensely personal.

Justice Horn is now a 20-something Black, gay activist in Kansas City who is Vice Chairman of the Kansas City LGBTQ Commission and sits on the Jackson County Children’s Services Fund Board. But 11 years ago, he was a student in Grain Valley Schools. What happened this week led him to open up about an experience he’s never before shared publicly.

In 2011, Horn was an eighth-grader at Grain Valley South Middle School. He played in the band and on the football team.

“But I felt alone,” Horn said. “I was bullied for, you know, my sexual orientation and how I talked and how I looked.”

That year, he tried to take his own life. He said stickers like the ones provided to schools by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network (GLSEN) might have prevented that. Now, he added, pulling down those signs will undoubtedly make some vulnerable kids feel unwelcome.

Because it’s more than just a sign for some.

“To a queer student that may feel that they don’t have a place in this world, that means the world,” Horn said.

The signs came down suddenly this week. Former students who graduated after Horn told him they’d been up for at least five years.

On Monday, the district sent the following statement on what occurred:

The School Board recently received a concern about the display of cards and stickers by some high school teachers to signal students could feel safe approaching them regarding personal LGBTQ questions. The Board directed the administration to have the cards and stickers removed.

Our goal is for every classroom to be a safe place for all students, not just in classrooms where teachers choose to display a particular sign.

We remain committed to providing professional development to help our staff create a safe, collaborative, and inclusive environment, consistent with our core beliefs, where each student feels a sense of belonging. The use of these cards, however, is determined to not be an appropriate step at this time.

“If it was simply a school board member directing administration, why do we need a school board? I mean, this should have been a vote,” Horn remarked.

KCTV5 emailed the district to ask what the nature of the concern was, in what venue it was presented and when, as well as what action was taken in a public board meeting. We have not yet received a reply.

We checked the agenda for the last board meeting and couldn’t find the topic. The minutes aren’t up yet, and their meetings aren’t video streamed. At the bottom of every agenda is the question, “Are all decisions made in the best interest of kids?” Horn says this one was clearly not.

“Kiddos who may not have supportive families, who may not have supportive parents, or who may not even have supportive friends or even a school who supports them, that is a scary thing to know,” he said.

The year Horn considered suicide, his parents transferred him out of the district and he met a teacher he could confide in.

On Tuesday, Grain Valley Schools issued a new statement titled “Next Steps Forward As A Community,” which reads as follows:

We appreciate the comments we have received since communicating the decision to remove safe place cards and stickers from high school classrooms. The feedback will help us be better.

An inclusive environment is essential, including for our student LGBTQ community. We recognize there is important work ahead of us to ensure an inclusive school environment.

In the upcoming weeks, we will host listening sessions for our community stakeholders, so our students, families, and staff have an opportunity for dialogue. School board members and the administration will participate. We will use this input to drive the action that will follow so that together we become the school district our community expects.

No dates have been set yet for the listening sessions. KCTV5 is awaiting clarification on whether the signs will remain down in the interim.