“I’m here.”

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear Families and Community,

“I’m here.” This is an actual quote from one of our immigrant students when I met with them recently, as well as some students who are part of our LGBTQ+ community. In the current national political climate, our message to our children locally in Bellingham Public Schools stems from The Bellingham Promise that all children are loved. Their presence is an asset to our community. They are here, far from invisible, and we are taking steps to support them.

“The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World,” coauthored by Douglas Abrams, who interviews the Dalai Lama and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu addresses the need for inclusion in a nonpartisan way, which is also my intent:  “When we see others as separate, they become a threat. When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge we cannot face — together. What can you do to help change the situation? You might not be able to do a great deal, but start where you are and do what you can where you are. And yes, be appalled. It would be awful if…we said, ‘Ah it doesn’t really matter.'”

Recently, I emailed our staff about how The Bellingham Promise should guide our interactions with students and families undergoing heightened concerns about national immigration policy. Since then, the federal Education and Justice departments have also rescinded guidance they had issued last year, requiring all students be treated “consistent with the student’s gender identity,” including use of restrooms and preferred pronouns.

People in our community are hearing about these changes in policy coming from “the other Washington,” in D.C., and are asking what this means for our schools. My response will be echoed here again: The Bellingham Promise says in part that “we believe all children should be loved.” This love includes respect for the basic rights of our students, and an appreciation — a celebration, really — of how much better our community is because of its diversity.

Despite the flurry of changes coming from D.C., I want to let you know that we are focused locally on our Promise. Chris Reykdal, the state’s newly elected superintendent of public instruction reminded us of state laws on Feb. 23: Gender identity and sexual orientation were added as protected classes to our state’s anti-discrimination law in 2006. Another law was passed in 2010 specifically protecting our students against discrimination. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction issued guidelines in 2012 that included use of restrooms and locker rooms consistent with the students’ gender identity. The state superintendent said it was his job “to ensure every student in our state receives a high quality education. … We must not discriminate against our students, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. Our state has a long and proud history of embracing differences, and I will not back down from that.” (Read the state superintendent’s full statement here.)

I stand by the words of our state superintendent, and I ask that you reassure any family or student who may express concern about what they’re hearing from the federal level. Bellingham will continue to be a nurturing place for all students, and a place that not only embraces differences but asserts the rights that have been written into state law for more than a decade now.

I’d also like for you to know about some proactive actions we’ve taken in recent years to support all students:

  • We have an LGBTQ+ staff leadership team with representatives from elementary, middle and high school.
  • We are providing initial LGBTQ+ cultural competency training for staff in every school by the end of 2017 and professional development opportunities for counselors, administrators, and teachers to deepen understandings and develop lessons for inclusive conversations and lessons.
  • We have clubs in almost all secondary schools for LGBTQ+ students.
  • Our Family Engagement Team supports families with translation, interpretation and connection to social services.
  • We have an undocumented citizen work group to develop trainings and support student and family meetings.
  • We host family and community outreach events and programs such as the Latino Summit, Home Literacy Nights, and Somali Family Night.
  • Our English Language Learners (ELL) staff specialists are advocates for their students and families and provide avenues of connection within the systems of power.
  • Our schools have signage to support inclusion and diversity.
  • Federal law (Title IX) prohibits gender-based discrimination and prohibits discrimination based on documentation status. We follow all anti-discrimination laws and do not tolerate hateful words, actions or crimes against any of the members of our community, regardless of race, religion, language, national origin, gender, sexuality, ability, or socio-economic status.
  • Our counseling and other school programs work to build up students’ self-esteem; prevent isolation, exclusion and bullying; and support students with mental illness and depression.
  • Our district’s point person to connect staff, students, and families to LGBTQ+ resources is Bethany Barrett, Director of Teaching and Learning.
  • Our district’s point person for families who speak languages other than English is Isabel Meaker, Special Assistant to the Superintendent for Family Engagement.

Please feel free to show your support for our students on my blog, ask questions or engage in this conversation.

Thank you for your continued dedication to support and love all of our students,

Greg Baker