Five Becker High School students spoke during the latest school board meeting, addressing issues faced by queer students in the school district.
Nick Roehl, a junior, began by reminding the board about the district’s policies on harassment and cyberbullying.
“‘Everyone at district 726 has a right to feel respected and safe,’” Roehl stated, quoting directly from the school handbook. “As a queer student,” he continued, “I can say that I do not feel respected or safe at this school.”
He cited a culture of homophobia, heteronormativity, and oppression as leading to the issues faced by queer students.
He called out the school board and administration on their silence regarding the bullying problems students face. He urged the board to make a stand against homophobia and re-evaluate disciplinary actions against those who bully other students.
Next to present was AJ Schmidt, a senior, who wished to address the lack of gender and sexuality issues being taught at the schools. He claimed that, without addressing these topics in the classroom, students lacked proper understanding of them, leading to some students bullying queer students and queer students reaching out to alternative (and potentially unreliable) sources of information.
“Having an inclusive curriculum,” he said, “could give students an increased awareness of human rights, along with fostering tolerance and understanding.”
Slate Smaby, a sophomore, presented on name and gender recognition next. He spoke on the importance of calling trans students by the correct pronouns and names, rather than using the pronouns and names they were assigned at birth. He said that many teachers will accidentally or intentionally call students by the wrong names or pronouns, which makes the students very uncomfortable.
“It’s very important to many of us that school officials support us because a lot of us are not supported at home,” Smaby said.
Austin Clemen, a junior, presented about the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). He said it was important to have a Becker GSA, just as it is important to have other sports and activities available for students. He listed many different benefits to having an official GSA, including lower suicide rates.
Marcus Kolbinger, a junior, presented on future needs of the schools, including training for school staff, to equip them to understand and help queer students; forming a student equity council, to help keep school officials informed about gender issues in the school; and sending out a survey to students, to gauge their experiences in the school related to gender issues.
The board thanked the students for the presentation and for providing important information. Supt. Jeremy Schmidt mentioned that he planned to have a meeting with representatives of the Big Lake and Monticello school districts to determine how all three could become more inclusive of queer students. The students, along with drama and speech coach Joseph Rand, asked that the board move quickly to find solutions for the students who are struggling with the issues they addressed.
Student Council Report
The student council representative reported on plans for prom and graduation. She noted that musicals for the middle and high schools were coming up soon. She gave a brief synopsis of a presentation made by a Dr. Omari to the students regarding bias.
Schmidt noted that many school policies were set to be reviewed next month. The board asked the cabinet to review the policies and offer recommendations to the board.
Schmidt also spoke on the presentation by Dr. Omari, saying that many staff members also attended his presentation, and listed several staff development and culture competency workshops.
Graduation will take place on May 28 at Eppard Field (the varsity football field), followed by a post-commencement parade.
The board reviewed changes that needed to be made to the 2020-21 budget over the last year due to the unusual circumstances provided by the pandemic. They then proceeded to review their proposed 2021-22 budget but, with Minnesota legislators still meeting and trying to make decisions about the upcoming year, a lot of what the board had to review was based on guesswork. They discussed issues in spending and funding, especially relating to food service and community education classes.
In Other Business, the Board:
• Heard reports from the various district committees;
• Discussed a potential change in policy regarding lettering in activities not directly overseen by the school (such as bowling, archery);
• Approved a resolution terminating one teacher, Melissa Bondhus;
• Agreed to a joint powers agreement regarding changes to the Sherburne and Northern Wright Special Education Cooperative as one of the schools leaves the cooperative;
• Reviewed goals the school district hopes to achieve.