While I may be preaching to the choir here when I write that every election counts, this year’s school board elections are critically important. Public education is under attack, as are teachers, librarians, and the administrators who lead school districts. As members of the LGBTQ community, your collective voices need to be heard this year through the ballot box to protect New Jersey’s public schools and the students who attend them.
There are approximately 5,000 school board members in New Jersey; and, depending on the size of a school district’s board of education, usually three members are up for reelection each year. You should be able to find the names of board members whose terms are up on your school district’s website, under a tab labeled School Board. Then, check your local news media online like Patch or TapInto; or, if you are fortunate enough to have local news coverage in one of New Jersey’s remaining larger papers, look there for information. Identify the people running for school board who will support LGBTQ students and their peers.
Unfortunately, too many candidates running for seats this November want nothing more than to take what they call “pornographic books” off school library shelves. They want to eliminate the Family Life portion (aka sex education) from the New Jersey Department of Education 2020 Health and Physical Education curriculum. Fueled by angry parents and conservative politicians, many school board candidates also oppose school districts having to enforce Policy 5756, which protects transgender students from being outed to their parents without their permission.
In some cases, these oppositional candidates are current school board members running for reelection. They have declared small victories this year. Books have been removed from school libraries; many of those books deal with LGBTQ themes, such as books like Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe — the most banned book in the United States — and Flamer by Mike Curato. Some candidates are not content with the opt-out provision for the Family Life standards. They believe sex education should be taught at home, not in school.
Recently, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew A. Platkin has had to file civil rights charges against three school districts (Middletown Township, Marlboro Township, and Manalapan-Englishtown) after school board members in those districts tried to alter the transgender policy so parents could be informed when a child changes pronouns and/or a name — a policy that was enacted in 2016 under then–Gov. Chris Christie.
These small insurgencies unfortunately leave negative impacts on student lives, but most especially the lives of LGBTQ students.
Fighting for the rights of students in public education isn’t new. Historically, we have seen hateful behavior directed towards marginalized groups — students of color, students with special needs, and now LGBTQ students. The desire of the opposition is to segregate and erase these students from the learning environment.
We all know gender identity is not changed by reading books or learning about safe sex. We also know students who identify as LGBTQ need to be seen, and supported, in public school settings.
So on Tuesday, Nov. 7 for the sake of the children in your lives, or for the sake of your own inner child who never had validation, or access to the books you would have loved to have read, I urge you to take your local school board elections seriously. Learn about your district’s school board candidates and vote for those candidates who support the mission of public education for all students.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Ferrara is writing in her capacity as a private citizen, and not in her capacity as a school board member. This essay is also not representative of the school board she serves, or its individual members; it solely represents her own personal opinions.