In February, a local parent stood on the corner of a local elementary school to pass out flyers to his fellow North Brooklyn community members.
“Attention PS 147 Families,” the flyer says in bold text on bright orange paper, “This is NOT what our children are going to school for!! As parents, it is our right to teach this to our children: NOT the school….RISE up and let your voice be heard to the PTA”
The “what our children are going to school for” in question is a screenshot from an online parent portal, highlighting Black Lives Matter Week of Action at PS 147. “Today’s principles are: Trans-Affirming, Queer-Affirming, and Collective Value,” the screenshot reads, “All Lives Don’t Matter until ALL Black Lives Matter.”
Schools across the country kicked off February’s Black History Month by participating in Black Lives Matter Week of Action, designed so that students can gain a deeper understanding of Black history and anti-racist education that goes deeper than boilerplate lessons on the Civil Rights movement. The week consists of uplifting the thirteen guiding principles of Black Lives Matter, two of which are in support Trans-Affirming and Queer-Affirming education. The week also makes four demands: “End “zero tolerance” discipline, implement restorative justice, hire more black teachers, mandate Black history and ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum, fund counselors not cops.”
While it is up to individual schools and teachers to decide whether or not to participate in Week of Action activities, gender affirming and inclusive education is, whether local parents like it or not, part of the curriculum mandated by the New York City Department of Education through its policy of “Respect for All.”
Months later, on a school-wide Zoom call in May, PTA president Shalonda Curtis-Hackett spoke about upcoming Pride month lessons on Stonewall and other Black, brown, Latinx trans activists, pointing out that resources would be made available on the parent portal. A fellow parent interrupted with a minutes-long rant about not wanting his son to learn about any of this because it went against his religious beliefs. Though Curtis-Hackett calmly reminded the parent that curriculum concerns need to be brought to the principal, the parent became further incensed. A couple of other parents chimed in on the call, but no school employee spoke up to stand by the curriculum, which disheartened Curtis-Hackett.
She sent the video to the superintendent and deputy superintendent, the latter of whom apologized. Teachers, some of whom Curtis-Hackett says had earlier expressed their discomfort in teaching all of the 13 principles of Black Lives Matter week, underwent more anti-bias training on Zoom.
The incidents have allegedly been under investigation by the DOE, but Curtis-Hackett does not feel like they have not been handling it as urgently as is needed. “It’s June now. The school year’s over. That was February 4th” she says. She also references the “rise up” language used on the flyer, from which she drew a parallel to the January 6th storming of the Capitol.
“This was only weeks after the insurrection. I expressed at the PTA meeting that these words are traumatic and harmful to me as a Black woman,” she says “I was actually in DC when the insurrection happened, so this is double for me. I didn’t have to come home to a space where I think I’m safe and now those words are being thrown directly at me during Black History Month and the first week of Black Lives Matter in schools.”
Furthermore, though the school administration had seemingly been on board with certain tenets of the “Respect for All” policy in the months leading up to Black Lives Matter week, Curtis-Hackett felt that they did not stand by their promises and failed to explicitly condemn transphobia in their school. Though Principal Sandra Noyola made a statement about the incident, Curtis-Hackett found it tepid. It was especially frustrating after she had attempted to reach out to her multiple times in prior school years, advocating for the school to embrace Black Lives Matter Week before it became a DOE mandate.
This is not the first time a school district Zoom call had been interrupted with transphobia. Greenpointers reported in March that during a virtual CEC meeting comprising multiple schools in the neighborhood, a parent from PS 132 invoked anti-trans rhetoric against “transgenders in the bathroom” which ended up being directed at a child who was present on the call.
It is clear that transphobia is on the rise within a cohort of parents, but it is unclear just how large that cohort might be. Curtis-Hackett believes that the same man who handed out the flyers in February was just elected as the new PTA president. She feels that the lack of action on the part of the higher ups, including the principal and district superintendent, has now emboldened this transphobia, which now potentially finds itself entrenched in power. As PTA president, Curtis-Hackett also feels like much of the responsibility in enforcing the DOE mandates has fallen on her.
Though there are parents who share her concerns, she feels that they have been hesitant to speak out. “The private empathy doesn’t help. I need public action,” Curtis-Hackett says, “I don’t wanna be the martyr. Black women are always the martyr. But if I don’t say anything, I’m just complicit, and I’m not gonna be complicit in anti-Blackness and homophobia and transphobia.”