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Murray Journal

Local legislative forum answers parents’ questions concerning education

Jan 10, 2022 03:50PM ● By Julie Slama

Sen. Kathleen Riebe, of District 8, was one of three legislators who were joined by a state school board representative, on region 19’s PTA legislative forum speaking on educational issues. (Screenshot)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

A legislative forum, as part of region 19’s PTA series of events that are coming into Murray School District homes via Zoom this year, presented topics from parent involvement to education funding.

Here’s what, in part, was discussed prior to this year’s state legislative session by Murray legislators and a representative with the Utah State School Board. The event was hosted by PTA region 19 legislative vice president Marci Muszynski, who posed questions to the panel that were submitted by Murray School District parents.

How do the legislators ensure the majority opinion isn’t overshadowed by a more vocal minority in school safety and curriculum?

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, District 37: Sen. (Kathleen) Riebe and I are on the education committee and the last few monthly meetings, we have had parents there who have very strong feelings. First of all, they rarely are on topic and they’re the same ones who come to school board meetings who disrupt, and their complaints aren’t on the agenda. They’re mostly not parents in the district. One of the most important things we can do as elected officials is to remind parents that we have a process. For example, with the continual complaint that we’re teaching Critical Race Theory, we don’t teach it. It’s not a curriculum. Whenever a new curriculum is introduced…take financial literacy, for example…it starts with the state school board creating standards for a particular program. Then, it goes to the district, and they create a curriculum for financial literacy. Then those teachers who are assigned it, have summer workshops. Teachers would work together to create lesson plans. So, the point is, people who are claiming certain things are being taught, when in fact they are not being taught, we need to remind them that we have a process to go through. It isn’t just teachers randomly deciding whatever they want to teach is fine. We must stick to those processes otherwise there’s chaos. Parents need to know we follow guidelines. Teachers are people who follow rules…and we teach kids that. So, if kids think that people coming in yelling and shouting and making noise and accusations are going to change things for the better, that’s how kids, they’re going to act. This is really a critical time. Too many times, we hear from the negative. The good, involved, respectful, engaged parents need to organize too.

Sen. Kathleen Riebe, District 8: We need you to get involved. We need you to show up to our school board meetings. We need you to show up at the legislature and say that, “We like our education system. We like our teachers.” Frequently, people say, “Well, I haven’t gotten any emails that say I like this” and I always use the example of the bumper sticker on the back of the car that says, “Call if you like my driving.” Well, I bet no one calls to say they like the driving. They only call if they don’t like the driving. And secondly, the (Utah) State Office of Education has a lot of committees that vet our standards, and we need common-sense families on those committees. We have frequent-fliers, who are just mad and want to disrupt the system and that isn’t helpful to us. We are all really working hard in the system to try to create a betterment for our kids and our families.

Sen. Gene Davis, District 3:  We’re structured as a society; right now that even though you don’t live in the Murray School District, there are those who will try to disrupt the meetings. They will fill a lot of the misinformation in there. A lot of the parents are picking up on the misinformation there. Probably the best thing you can do as parents, is to know the truth. You need to work with the school districts to find out what the truth is so you can counter with some of those claims that are out there of misinformation. 

State school board rep. Janet Cannon, District 8.: (on CRT) This sort of blindsided us. Critical Race Theory came from Harvard Law School in the ’70s. It’s a college-level curriculum. There’s nothing appropriate for it to be taught in K-12 and it’s not taught in K-12. When people came to us and were so upset, accused us of teaching Critical Race Theory, it was really an accusation looking for where the problem was. It really isn’t being taught in Utah schools. It’s a problem in search of a place to land. 

What bills do you anticipate coming forth in regards to in transgender and gender non-conforming students’ participation in athletics regardless of gender at birth?

Davis: I think we’ll see the same bill that we’ve saw the last two sessions, trying to really discriminate against transgender individuals. Parents themselves are becoming more aware and sensitive of their children’s identities. That’s why we’re seeing perhaps a little more openness in the discussion about transgender. They’re becoming more aware and more accepting of that, so they’ll expect the rest of society to respect and accept their children as well.

Riebe: I also believe we will see that (same bill). I think though it has become increasingly unpopular for these bills to be run. We were at the Silicon Slopes breakfast and a lot of very prominent business owners said that it is very hard for us to recruit people to come to the state of Utah if we are going to run bills that seem exclusionary or hateful. That message was heard that morning. The other thing is that we are trying to bring the Olympics here and we’re trying to bring other sporting venues here. Outside looking in, it’s not a good look for the state of Utah. I think this is influencing some of the decisions as well….With our state with having the largest rate of suicide, I think this is something that we need to be cognizant of. It’s not a matter of whether we want to delve into it, we have to; and we have to look at the mental health of our students. When I was on the state school board with Janet (Cannon), we talked about what our mission was going to be. I was like, I just want my kid to make it to adulthood at this point because we’ve had heard of so many kids having self-harm issues. I just want them to have a safe place and make it to adulthood. Some days that’s how we feel and some days, that’s how they feel. It’s important that we meet them where they are and try to give them the support they need. We need to be there for them.

Moss: 1) There’s never been any student in Utah, ever, transgender trying to play in girls sports. 2) The high school activities association has rules in place…that a student must be on hormones for a certain amount of time. It just becomes a hot-button issue. My heart goes out to kids. I want kids to be happy, to be safe and to be healthy. The beautiful thing is that the kids are becoming much more accepting of kids with differences now. They don’t have a problem with it. It’s adults who are making it a problem. I want school to be a safe environment for all students. 

Cannon: (At the state school board) We have a standards and assessment committee and we’re dealing with this issue right now. The take we have on it is that we’d like to address something that might be helpful for teachers who are on the ground facing these issues in their teaching careers. We’re trying to put together what federal laws say, what the state of Utah laws say, regarding these things, and then that may be helpful examples for teachers who are dealing with this.

What efforts are being made to work toward fully funded IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and section 504 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities) in Utah?

Riebe: Some of the problems we have with fully funding IDEA, 504s and IEPs (individual education plans), is that we have difficulties coding them. We actually leave money on the table because we can’t code them properly and so we aren’t getting the Medicaid funding that we need to get.…Our needs have grown. I would like to see us move to serving kids at a higher rate from K to three, and then we maybe will not have such a higher rate at four through 12. Our kids, they have disabilities when they come, they have learning disorders, so if we can approach those and we give them the help they need as quickly as possible, then maybe they can transition out of special ed. The antiquated thought of ‘I don’t want my kid in special ed,’ does not help anyone. It’s actually a detriment to our students to wait two years or to do these interventions. We should be attacking it full on and getting there quickly and getting them everything they need to try to figure out what’s going on and give them what services they need. This year, we actually do have a big influx of money. Every time I meet with school districts, I’m like, ‘Let’s try everything’ and let’s keep really good data on it. This way, when we get to the end of three years and our money starts to evaporate, we can say this is what we thought we were doing for years, but it didn’t work as well as this is going to work. I hoping that we’re trying everything and we’re trying to meet the needs of our kids. 504s, IEPs, they are so hard to negotiate. You could give every dollar and you still may not have enough.