In recent weeks Park City has erupted into debate over the limits of tolerance, free speech and the community responsibility to protect children from bullying. The catalyst of the imbroglio was the inclusion of a professional development curriculum for teachers at Trailside Elementary School called Welcoming Schools. The program is part of an anti-bullying campaign that aims to train elementary school teachers “to embrace family diversity, create LGBTQ and gender inclusive schools, prevent bias based bullying and support transgender and non-binary students,” according to the Welcoming Schools website. Such programs are unequivocally positives in our schools and there simply isn’t a good-faith argument to be made against providing teachers with the resources to combat bullying or any type. Some in Park City and Summit County, however, have seized upon the opportunity to create controversy in response to the program.
After Trailside principal Carolyn Synan announced of the Welcoming Schools program, a group of parents from Trailside anonymously sent an email calling it “an LGBTQ indoctrination program and sex education program funded by the Human Rights Campaign.” Three days later, Synan and Park City Superintendent Jill Gildea were served with a cease-and-desist letter from the Pacific Justice Institute on behalf of the anonymous Trailside parents opposed to Welcoming Schools. There are three important takeaways to unpack from these events.
First, Welcoming Schools is a teacher-training program aimed at preventing bullying, and is in no way, shape or form a sex education program for elementary school students. Assertions to the contrary are demonstrably false. Second, Welcoming Schools is part of the district’s Safe Schools Program, wherein some version of an anti-bullying campaign with state-provided training is state requirement. Welcoming Schools is not, as some would have you believe, overreach via a cabal of woke influencers. Third, the Pacific Justice Institute—which sent the cease-and-desist letters on behalf of the anonymous parents—is classified as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
At this point I’d be remiss in omitting the disclaimer that people are entitled to their own opinions and that healthy debate is welcome in our communities. The discourse around Welcoming Schools, however, has degraded with some attempting to “both sides” an issue in ways that aren’t intellectually honest. I’ll posit anyone using the term “LGBTQ indoctrination” in their argument is trading in bigoted tropes and specious reasoning. I’d also point out those hiding behind the maxims of free speech are ignoring that the First Amendment protects one from government persecution and does not render one immune to judgement or consequence in their private lives for espousing views that are intolerant or repugnant.
It’s a tale of two prevailing narratives surrounding Welcoming Schools in Park City. The first, backs the belief that providing teachers with the tools to combat anti-LGBTQ bullying unequivocally makes for a safer, more welcoming community. Park City Councilor Tim Henney is among those who have publicly voiced support for the program in an op-ed in the Park Record. The counter narrative concerns those who feel vilified for not supporting Welcoming Schools, a viewpoint articulated by Parkite Allison Cook in her own Park Record op-ed. Frankly, the latter is a tired argument about intolerance of intolerance being its own form of unredeemable intolerance. Pointing out prejudice is not, in fact, analogous to perpetuating said prejudice. The Paradox of Tolerance elucidates upon the dead ends of such logic for those interested in delving deeper.
Many Parkites are unsettled by the furor surrounding welcoming schools. A program aimed at eliminating bullying in elementary schools through teacher education is being twisted into a disingenuous argument about indoctrinating youth with “alternative” sex education. Park City may be a cultural outlier in Utah, but this isn’t an argument about freedom of expression or religion, as some assert. Welcoming Schools aims to create an environment where all students are treated safely with dignity and respect. Who among those wishing to end up on the right side of history can argue with that?
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