Education Montana Politics

Tell Elsie Arntzen It’s Unacceptable to Ignore Montana’s LGBTQ Kids

Written by Don Pogreba
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In the coverage of the Arntzen plan to comply with the new federal ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind) regulations, one detail slipped: the new administration under Arntzen erased effortsfrom the old plan to help LGBTQ students. Where the Juneau Administration offered specific guidance for districts to provide services for these kids, the Arntzen plan ignores the data about their vulnerability and simply erases them from policy consideration.

The original draft, written under the Juneau administration included specific provisions for districts to recognize the unique needs of LGBTQ students under the federal mandates to identify and care for homeless youth. From that draft:

The State Coordinator shall collaborate and coordinate with the Montana PRIDE Foundation and other local, state, and national agencies and organizations providing support to LGBTQ children and youths to insure that that they have access to supports and services tailored to the unique needs of this population. The State Coordinator shall work with such agencies and organizations to focus on LGBTQ youth who are unaccompanied, a group that is particularly at risk for abuse, violence, and child sex trafficking.

The OPI proposal recognized the stark reality: many LGBTQ students become homeless. In fact, as many as 40% of homeless youth in the US are LGBTQ:

Harassment at school and family rejection all too often combine with failures of our social safety nets to contribute to a third threat to the health of LGBT youth: homelessness. Between 20 percent and 40 percentof homeless youth are LGBT, meaning that hundreds of thousands of LGBT children and young adults are living on the streets each year. Homelessness disrupts the lives and development of these young people and can lead to significant negative outcomes in mental and physical health, lower educational attainment, and economic instability.

Schools need to develop programs to assist these students because, all too often, these kids face hostile family situations, persistent bullying, and condemnation from conservative social groups who demonize kids to score political points. And homelessness comes with incredible vulnerability for kids, who can be further victimized by abuse and even trafficking.

As a teacher, my personal experience backs the data. Even in our more accepting times, there are many students who are torn between their fear of their family’s response and their desire to live their authentic lives. The threats and fears these kids face are absolutely real and it’s simply indefensible for the state education agency to attempt to erase and ignore the situation many face. Directing schools to provide services to protect these kids from violence and victimization is critically important to keep them from becoming homeless.

Under the proposal from Superintendent Arntzen, the unique needs of that student population are ignored and every reference to LGBTQ students has been stripped from the document. This, despite the research backing the need for increased support for our LGBTQ kids and the work of the previous administration and despite Mrs. Arntzen’s rhetoric about serving all of Montana’s kids.

It’s more than ironic that Mrs. Arntzen’s proposal put the needs of ALL Montana students in all-caps twice in the introduction before deliberately leaving out the needs of LGBTQ kids; it’s tragic. From her proposal:

The long-term goals and accountability indicators in Montana’s plan close long-standing achievement gaps and provide educational opportunities for all Montana students. ALL means ALL in Montana.

Under Arntzen, this document represents policy making driven by the warped values of the Montana Family Foundation, not the use of objective data that can help protect Montana kids if it’s heeded.

It’s not to late to try to convice Mrs. Arntzen to do the right thing for Montana kids. OPI is still accepting comment on the document and you can share your thoughts via phone, e-mail, or mail:

  • ESSAinput@mt.gov,
  • 406-444-3095, or
  • 1227 11th Avenue, Helena, MT 59601

Apologies for any errors in this post. Wi-Fi has been a challenge and I’m hopeful that the final (and not 12 drafts) of this post made it online.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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