'Welcoming Schools' anti-bullying program heats up Park City

In recent months, one Park City elementary school has sparked conflict among Parkites regarding the school’s induction of the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools initiative. Welcoming Schools identifies itself as a training tool for elementary school educators focusing on embracing family diversity, creating LGBTQ- and gender-inclusive schools and preventing bias-based bullying.

Utah State Board of Education equity and advocacy specialist Holly Bell travels to schools around the state and helps districts implement anti-bullying training newly required by state law and helps teachers promote equity.

“My role here is to provide technical assistance to schools. If I’m able to provide training to help equity, I do,” Bell said in an interview with the Park Record. “Teachers are getting these questions and they don’t know how to answer. (These trainings are) giving them some tools so they know how to answer things that come into their schools.”

Yet, when Carolyn Synan, the principal of Trailside Elementary, invited Bell to her school, a group of parents with children enrolled there anonymously sent an email calling it “an LGBTQ indoctrination program and sex education [program]”. Shortly after this, a cease-and-desist letter from the Pacific Justice Institute, a legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties, was delivered to Synan and to the Park City Superintendent.

The cease-and-desist letter made two demands: that the district stop the implementation of Welcoming Schools and that the district remove all Welcoming Schools materials from district buildings, including posters and books.

“We initially reject many of the factual and legal assertions set forth in your letter and believe that you are misinformed about the nature of the Welcoming Schools program,” the district’s legal counsel Joan Andrews wrote in an initial letter Oct. 17. In a second letter 12 days later, she added, “should you follow through with your threat of litigation, the District is fully prepared to defend its actions to-date.”

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