APS board approves controversial records policy - Albuquerque Journal

APS board approves controversial records policy

DharmaLynne Fuller, left, comforts Tayo McNulty after a tense confrontation outside the Albuquerque Public Schools board room on Wednesday. The board voted 5-2 to approve a contentious policy, which split community advocates and parents about how to weight the rights and responsibilities of parents and guardians against the right to privacy of LGBTQ students. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

At 16, Tayo McNulty attempted suicide.

After, hoping they would be supported by their parents, they decided to come out. Instead, they were kicked out, before they could finish high school.

McNulty’s experience — something they said is common among LGBTQ youth — was part of why they chose to attend a tense Albuquerque Public Schools board meeting on Wednesday, where board members again took up a contentious policy about the rights and responsibilities of parents, guardians and students.

For months, the policy split parents and community advocates over the amount of access guardians should have to their children’s records, with some arguing the proposal would disproportionately impact LGBTQ students.

Ultimately, the board approved the policy on a 5-2 vote. Board members Crystal Tapia-Romero, Courtney Jackson, Danielle Gonzales, Peggy Muller-Aragón and President Yolanda Montoya-Cordova voted yes, and Josefina Domínguez and Barbara Petersen voted no.

“I am scared and angry,” McNulty, who is now 25, said of the vote. “I felt sick to my stomach thinking about all of the kids that this put in harm’s way.”

Elliot Bridge confronts APS board members, challenging them to “address the transphobic comments” made during a public forum at a contentious meeting on Wednesday. The policy, which addressed parents rights and responsibilities, was ultimately passed by the board. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

Since the policy was tabled over four months ago, dozens of parents, students, educators and community advocates have turned out to board meetings to speak their minds. Almost 40 people signed up to speak at Wednesday’s meeting.

Heated arguments and outbursts frequently broke out in the packed board room Wednesday. Both sides leveled accusations at each other of politicizing the issue, and several board members denounced “transphobic” rhetoric expressed during some of the comments.

One person, who called for board members to address the “transphobic comments,” was asked to leave and escorted out of the building.

On one side, community advocates, students and some parents have argued the policy would out LGBTQ students who don’t feel safe coming out to their families, but want to be themselves at school, by making certain records more accessible to parents than they should be.

On the other, many parents worried that their right to know what’s going on with their students was under threat, especially when it comes to their mental health or grappling with being transgender.

“I’m their primary caregiver. My kids’ education is my responsibility,” Susan Henry, an APS parent, said at a recent board meeting. “I care more about my kids than any teacher ever will … and if they’re going through something like that, which is huge, I need to know, I need to be a part of it, and support them in whatever way I think is best.”

In the months since the policy was tabled, board members have consulted several parent, educator and community groups on the revisions. That included reorganizing it and including students more.

Notably, a list describing the educational records that parents have a right to access was also struck from the July version, which Jackson said was done to help address some of the concerns with the policy.

That helped address some of the concerns of advocates, but many still argued the policy wasn’t needed.

“The newest edition is better than the initial policy,” said Damon Carbajal, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network Albuquerque co-chair and policy coordinator. “I do think there’s going to be a lot of issues, still, regarding counseling records, as well as items such as … gender support plans.”

“I just feel like if we’re not very careful, those can end up becoming more accessible than (they) already are, without a student’s consent,” he added.

Jackson noted that those records are still available to parents.

Jackson, one of the original collaborators on the policy, and other board members have insisted the board can’t give parents any rights and responsibilities they don’t already have, and that the policy is just a consolidation of existing policies into one convenient place.

“There’s no political intent for this policy,” Jackson told the Journal. “The policy is meant to be transparent, to be collaborative, to demonstrate a shared effort, to strengthen the home to school relationship, to break down barriers.

“I am so disheartened how something that had such a good intention has turned so sour,” she added at the meeting.

Jackson pointed out that the policy has been extensively vetted by APS administration, including attorneys, cabinet members, board members and the superintendent.

Sadie Hollrah, a volunteer with the Albuquerque Liberation Center, argued that the proposal as it was originally presented in fact expanded on existing policies, giving parents more access to things like counselor notes that she said they normally wouldn’t have had.

“This should have been a straightforward consolidation of existing policy, but instead, queer students’ lives were put at risk,” she said at the meeting.

And teachers union President Ellen Bernstein said the policy, as it was originally presented, was “extremely political,” and argued that it may have opened the door for some “scary” things, like allowing people to edit history curricula or judging which books are acceptable.

She also noted that much of the problematic language in the policy has since been taken out.

“Because of really awesome activism … from wonderful, caring adults about the wellbeing of their students, I think that has become a policy that is benign in nature,” she said.

Suzey Gao, left, argues with Georgia Bowens-Matsu after her public comments in support of a contentious parents rights policy at the Albuquerque Public Schools headquarters on Wednesday. Ultimately, the school board approved the policy. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)
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