A half-dozen current and former students stood up to the Delano school board on Monday night to tell stories about being bullied and harassed because of their skin color, sexual orientation or other differences.
"It's terrible," said one high schoolgirl who identified herself only as "Charlotte" and said she was LGBT.
"I hear the word 'gay' tossed around as an insult every day in school," she said. "I have been called 'diseased,' never in earshot of teachers. The things people say … are truly, truly appalling."
Those students and another half-dozen parents told the board that the rainbow-colored signs posted in classrooms earlier this year promoted diversity and were welcome, even necessary.
The signs created controversy early in May when word of them spread through the community. Parents called Superintendent Matthew Schoen's office and, in turn, district officials told teachers that the signs could be violating a written policy. Some signs came down.
Mikayla McKasy, now a student at Penn State, said she attended Delano schools from seventh to 10th grade, but had to leave because of the bullying and harassment she endured for being black. "In seventh grade, a teacher told me slavery was not that bad. … One mom said, 'You're not that bad kind of [racial expletive], you're intelligent.' Signs were not something that happened when I was here."
Misty Larson spoke about the bullying her two daughters, both adopted from South Korea, endured and their subsequent depression.
"The signs," Larson said, "are not only OK but could be lifesaving. I can't even imagine what LGBT youth must go through. If the signs make people uncomfortable, remember how uncomfortable minority students feel every day."
Larson said her daughters have since moved to another school district.
Only the first person to speak appeared to object to the rainbow signs. Ben Anderson of Howard Lake had a list of rhetorical questions for the board. "Is this social agenda platform part of the curriculum? What is the next social agenda to hijack your school? Are you aware that students who oppose the signs are being censured by teachers? My son has personally been stared down by a teacher who disagrees with him."
Later, Dan Stolfa of Delano reminded the board that LGBT is not a "social agenda" but rather a protected class.
When public comments were over, school board Chairwoman Amy Johnson thanked the speakers. "We need to train and educate our staff, students and parents about what an environment of inclusion looks like at all times," she said. "We look forward to continuing this discussion."