Academy School District 20 parents are alarmed that conservative corners of the community are pushing for LGBTQ students to be segregated, after conversations with D20 leadership were released Dec. 5.
A Colorado Open Records Act request revealed discussions between top-level district staff and the so-called “parental rights” group, Advocates for D20 Kids, about restricting bathroom use for transgender students and a separate “nontraditional” school for LGBTQ kids and their allies.
One of the email chains describes a Sept. 15 meeting that members of D20 Superintendent Tom Gregory’s cabinet had with Don Spano, a former D20 teacher, and Brian Moody, a D20 parent and chair of Advocates for D20 Kids, which formed earlier this year.
Per Moody, the group wants to ban discussions of LGBTQ identity, gender and sexuality in classrooms, and wants to require kids to use bathrooms and locker rooms according to the sex they were assigned at birth — with no exceptions for transgender kids.
During the September meeting, Spano went even further, suggesting “the idea of an LBTQ/transgender [sic] school or campus,” according to the email, which was a relay of meeting notes taken by D20 Chief Communication Officer Allison Cortez.
“Parents who feel like their student needs an LBTQ/transgender [sic] environment, and ‘that type of belonging’ could send their kids to a school where there are teachers and admin who believe the same,” Spano said, according to Cortez’s notes.
In an interview with the Indy, Moody claims that progressive community members upset about Spano’s suggestion are “stirring the pot” and “ginning up controversy.” He claims LGBTQ segregation is not something he, or Advocates for D20 Kids, support, and it was “a bad idea” from Spano alone. The Indy has attempted to contact Spano via Moody, with no response.
The email notes say, however, that after Spano’s suggestion, “Moody added by saying the district does have a strong choice culture, and while he isn’t sure if the district could allocate an entire school for LGBTQ students, some schools are already much more progressive — like Chinook [Trail Middle School], so perhaps there could be traditional schools and more experimental/progressive schools.”
The second email chain between Moody and Gregory was about an Oct. 17 meeting between the two, plus 3 to 4 others, and included what Moody misinterpreted as the district’s policy on transgender students’ bathroom use — such as a rule that “No bathroom or locker room usage will be allowed different than a birth gender unless a statement of written record exists for the student in question choosing to use a bathroom or locker room different than their birth gender.”
The full text of the email chains can be viewed at the link at the bottom of this article.
The emails were circulated in a popular progressive D20 parent group on social media and were swiftly condemned as anti-LGBTQ. Some wondered why D20 staff are even engaging in these conversations with people who expressly want to ban LGBTQ discussions from district schools — demands which the progressive groups consider hate speech.
Erin Stevens, a D20 parent and co-chair and spokesperson for the group Defense of Democracy’s new Colorado Springs chapter, says she understands Gregory’s job as superintendent includes listening to parents on both sides of the aisle.
But he and D20 Board of Education members who hear such ideas from Advocates for D20 Kids need to push back against them, Stevens says — and she doesn’t believe that’s happening, and it was not clear in the email chain.
“We have been speaking at board meetings and calling out what’s wrong with this behavior for so long, for so many months,” says Stevens, who has a nonbinary middle schooler in the district.
LGBTQ kids and teachers have spoken up during public comments, she says, “pleading, ‘We are people; we are students; let us live our lives.’”
“If there is hate speech, or it threatens a community of students, then at that point, it needs to be shut down,” Stevens says. “Freedom of speech means people can say what they want. But you need to have somebody to say, ‘No, that’s not going to happen.’”
In an interview with the Indy, Cortez says that she and other leaders did reject Spano’s LGBTQ segregation suggestion during the Sept. 15 meeting.
“I do remember we talked a great deal about respecting individuals for who they are,” she says. “And that wouldn’t be something that we would pursue — segmenting people out — ever, ever.”
The district has a strategic plan that emphasizes “belonging” of all students and staff members, including those who are LGBTQ (that’s what the Sept. 15 meeting was originally about) and Cortez says that goal was reemphasized to Moody and Spano.
Gregory adds, “I, or any of our staff, will refuse to meet with folks once, or if, there are threats made or it becomes completely counterproductive.”
Gregory also says that although Moody’s description of how the district handles transgender students’ bathroom and locker room use was “close,” it was not Gregory’s verbatim answer at the Oct. 17 meeting. The email referred to the “policy” as official, which Gregory says is not true — there is no written, administrative policy about the issue, he says.
The following is what Gregory explains to the Indy is the way he instructs principals to handle students’ requests to use the bathroom of their choosing. He says it’s guided, in part, by the legal advice of D20’s counsel, the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance for K12 schools and the district’s own interpretation of what’s “age-appropriate”:
If an elementary school student in grades kindergarten through 5 expresses they would like to use a different bathroom, principals will involve their parents in that discussion.
If a student in grades 6 through 12 does so, principals are instructed to ask the student if they would like their parents to be involved in the discussion. If they do not, “we will honor that — we have to honor that,” Gregory says.
If the 6th to 12th grade student wants help starting a conversation with their parents about coming out as LGBTQ, school counselors can do that, but there is no “forced outing” of LGBTQ middle and high schoolers, he says.
Principals will then share with the student and/or their parents all the bathroom and locker room options available to them, “knowing that, at the end of the day, we must honor the student’s request,” Gregory says.
If any student, “boy or a girl, purposely, wrongfully and with ill-intent uses a different restroom, or the other genders’ restroom without permission — abusing, if you will, the options — then there will be consequences,” he says.
Students need to go through their principals first to request their bathroom of choice. “Principals know which students in their schools have these standing agreements,” he says.
Gregory sees Moody’s and the Advocates for D20 Kids group’s concerns (claims that students will feel uncomfortable being asked their preferred pronouns and the fear that predatory students could “abuse” the bathroom rules) as more examples of politicized national culture war issues being inflicted on the district — despite the fact they’re not happening in D20 schools.
The Indy has reported on this happening in other El Paso County school districts, where parents and community members have falsely claimed Critical Race Theory is taught in K12 schools, for example.
Gregory estimates that this year, 70 to 80 percent of his time has been spent on non-academic issues, “dispelling rumors or misconceptions” circulating the community. He called it a “distraction.” It’s part of the reason he’s retiring at the end of the 2022-2023 school year, he says.
“It seems to have become a zero-sum game,” Gregory says. “It’s either a win or a loss on somebody’s scorecard, versus finding some middle ground that we can agree on and feel pretty good about. … It’s hard to defend allegations that you’re doing something that you’re not.”