East Village Students Win Fight for LGBT-Inclusive Curriculum in Classroom

By Allison Hope

Originally published by DNAinfo on June 17, 2016

Students from the Earth School have successfully advocated to push a national online education provider to include an LGBT-specific curriculum.  Photo: Colin Schumacher

Students from the Earth School have successfully advocated to push a national online education provider to include an LGBT-specific curriculum. Photo: Colin Schumacher

EAST VILLAGE — An education company that supplies learning materials to millions of students across the nation will be adding LGBT studies to its elementary school curriculum after one New York City public school fought to make it happen.

BrainPOP, an interactive digital educational company based in the Flatiron that’s used by students in public schools across the city, has agreed to create a new LGBT Civil Rights-specific curriculum by the fall — following nearly a year of pressure from students the East Village’s Earth School as well as an outpouring of grief following the recent tragedy in Orlando.

“Children of all ages are exposed to the terrible news, and as parents and teachers, we are once again faced with having to explain the unexplainable. To help provide kids with context, we’ll be publishing a topic that addresses the historic Gay Rights movement and encourages tolerance and acceptance,” BrainPOP Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Din Heiman wrote on the company’s website Monday — a day after gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people in an LGBT club and wounded 53 more before he was killed by police.

“I do hope that the Earth School children that expressed a wish to see a BrainPOP topic realize that their request was heard, and led to real change even before the events of this tragic weekend,” Heiman added in a separate email to the school shared with DNAinfo New York.

Heiman told DNAinfo he planned to prepare standalone LGBT educational materials ready in time for the new school year.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito hugs a student from the Lower East Side's Earth School during a meeting to brainstorm ways to advocate for an LGBT-inclusive curriculum in their elementary school.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito hugs a student from the Lower East Side’s Earth School during a meeting to brainstorm ways to advocate for an LGBT-inclusive curriculum in their elementary school.

The announcement came as welcome news to the students at the Earth School, where fourth and fifth grade students had been calling on BrainPOP to create an elementary school curriculum devoted to the fight for LGBT Civil Rights.

“What is the purpose of education if not to change things for the better?” said Earth School teacher Colin Schumacher, who spearheaded the charge after his fourth grade class realized last year during their civil rights studies that BrainPOP had nothing available regarding the LGBT community’s struggle.

The students sent an email to the company to find out why and to ask that it get added. When the company failed to respond, the students called elementary and middle school principals in the area and asked if they would lend their support. The students sent a second request to BrainPOP with the list of supportive educational leaders, but still heard no response, Schumacher said.

The Earth School’s Principal Abbe Futterman eventually got an email from BrainPOP’s Editorial Director, Jon Feldman, who wrote, “I doubled-checked with our standards provider, and it seems that at present only four states, including New York, have specific standards around LGBT rights. Every one of those standards is at the high school level. While there are high school classrooms that use BrainPOP, we do not create topics that are applicable only to those grades,” according to the email she shared with DNAinfo.

BrainPOP officials wrote in the email that they would consider, “revising the Civil Rights movie to better highlight the connection between the historical movement of the 1960s and the activism it inspired in subsequent generations. This will naturally include the LGBT Rights movement.”

But that wasn’t a sufficient response for the students, they said.

“The kids did not believe that adding LGBT rights as an addendum to any existing video is fair and equal treatment for one of the most significant civil rights movements of their lifetime,” said Schumacher, who teaches fourth and fifth grades at The Earth School, which serves 300 students between pre-K and fifth grade.

The students kept up the battle this spring, creating a standalone website entitled,“Kids for LGBT Rights Now,” which features a multi-faceted effort to push for LGBT-inclusive curriculum in schools, including a video they produced and starred in while wearing a rainbow of different colored shirts, standing in front of various locations of LGBT significance including Stonewall Inn.

The website also includes a blog with updates on their efforts as well as a petition calling on BrainPOP to add LGBT content to its suite of offerings.

On April 29, the students met with LGBT Liaison for the NYC Department of Education Jared Fox, who met with them and advised them on ways to make their advocacy campaign more effective, they said.

“We work closely with schools to develop grade-appropriate curriculum that aligns with the New York State standards and includes positive representations of LGBT individuals and history,” Fox said in a statement. “We support the work of The Earth School in creating an inclusive curriculum and encouraging students to get involved through project-based learning.”

A few weeks later, students met with more city officials including New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, her Community Engagement Liaison Mili Bonilla, and City Council and LGBT Caucus Member Daniel Dromm.

Dromm, who faced homophobia as one of the few out gay teachers in the New York City system in the early 1990s, then sent a letter to BrainPOP as well as to Apple CEO Tim Cook, since Apple has been heavily promoting BrainPOP on its products.

“These incredibly inspiring activists have one simple mission. They want BrainPOP, a resource they highly value, to cover history accurately. I look forward to receiving your response about why such content is not on your site and why you have no plans to address its glaring omission,” Dromm’s letter read.

On June 8, the students attended the New York City Council pride celebration where they showed the video the kids produced calling on BrainPOP to create standalone LGBT resources. “The kids were the hit of the evening,” Dromm said. “They received a five-minute-long standing ovation.”

The Earth School students with their teacher had planned to return to the New York City Council on June 21 to be recognized for their work as part of the annual ceremony to highlight the accomplishments of New Yorkers — and the news of their success will make the visit even more powerful, Dromm said.

“Many people have laid down their lives, Harvey Milk and others, in this cause for LGBT civil rights,” Dromm said, “So I think to present history in an intellectually honest way is something we must do.”

Read more here.

Dancing and Drag Performances Planned for Pride Prom at Queens Museum

By Katie Honan

Originally published by DNAinfo on May 19, 2016

Lady Quesadilla will host Pride Prom at the Queens Museum.

Lady Quesadilla will host Pride Prom at the Queens Museum.

CORONA — Eat, dance and enjoy being your fabulous self at next week’s Pride Prom, which offers a do-over for those who felt excluded from their own high school celebration.

The free event, which will be held Tuesday, May 24 at the Queens Museum, will feature prizes, music from DJ Yayo and performances by host Lady Quesadilla.

The idea is to offer a safe place for celebration, for people of all ages, according to organizers.

“A proper rite of passage for individuals of all ages, this celebration is for anyone who is currently being shut out of their prom, was excluded in the past or simply did not feel welcome to be themselves,” the event’s listing page says.

City Councilman Danny Dromm — who organized the borough’s first pride parade — is the special guest.

The prom is open to everyone, young and old, who wants to celebrate themselves and others.

The event sponsored by Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Hispanic Federation, with support from Make the Road New York, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, The Hetrick-Martin Institute and other groups.

You can register for the event here.

Read more here.

Dromm To Highlight Right To Opt Out Of Standardized Tests

By Michael Florio

Originally published in the Jackson Heights Post on April 1, 2016


The New York State English Language Arts exams are set to take place next week and Council Member Daniel Dromm wants parents to know they have options.

Dromm will be hosting a meeting on Sunday at noon in front of the Jackson Heights Post Office, located at 78-02 37th Ave., where he will alert parents that they have the option of allowing their children to opt out of the test.

“I want to inform parents of their right to opt out,” he said. “I don’t think the [Department of Education] made that as well known to parents as they should have.”

The ELA test will start Tuesday and run through Thursday. The math test will take place the following week.

The test, which students in grades three through eight take, is used to evaluate students’ skills and mastery of content, as well as to help shape future instruction, according to the DOE.

The test is also used as part of the teacher evaluation process.

For Dromm, this use of the test is problematic.

“The tests used to be used to determine where a child was academically and what they need more help in,” Dromm, a former teacher, said. “The reformers came up with the idea to use the grades to evaluate schools and teachers.”

“The tests were never intended for these purposes,” he said.

While parents have been able to remove their children from these tests for years, opting out has only picked up momentum recently due to the pressures now placed on children, Dromm said.

Dromm said in recent years parents have caught on and now the movement to opt out is gaining traction. Last year more than 240,000 students chose to opt out, according to his office.

“Parents realize that the tests are not being used properly,” he said. “That’s when they revolted and said no more to these tests.”

Parents who are interested in opting out of the test should speak to their child’s principal, according to the DOE.

If a student does opt out of the test, the school will work to the best of its ability to provide the child with an alternate education activity, such as reading, during test times, the DOE said.

Read more here.

How to Better Serve Dyslexic Students In Our Public Schools


Originally published by New York Slant on March 15, 2016


Teaching children to read is the most fundamental and consequential job of our schools.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recognizes this and should be applauded for his commitment to ensure all children are reading on grade level by the end of second grade. However, there are too many children affected by dyslexia who, by no fault of their own, do not have a chance to reach this important goal. They work twice as hard as their peers who read more naturally, but accomplish only half as much. Their frustration mounts and it affects all parts of their lives. As we recognize New York State Dyslexia Awareness Day on Tuesday, let us all commit to do more to identify, educate and support students with dyslexia.

We need to create a culture for dyslexia, or what leading city advocates refer to as Dyslexia (Plus) in Public Schools, where city public school students with dyslexia and related language-based learning disabilities will be provided with the opportunity to thrive and learn in their neighborhood schools. A partnership between the Department of Education and the City University of New York in creating a cadre of highly trained teachers that can be the beginning of a game changer in a system that has often left too many of our children behind.

Dyslexia is a neurologically based learning disability that makes reading, writing and spelling difficult and is the most prevalent learning disability in our school system. The fact is one in five children in our schools are dyslexic – more than 200,000 New York City public school students.

Despite the prevalence of the disability, our school system lacks a coherent plan or commitment to support dyslexic students, and schools aren’t providing access to early identification of dyslexia and related language-based learning differentiations. Therefore, a majority of students with dyslexia are not identified and struggle silently with a diminished self-esteem and anxiety about school.

The problem is particularly severe among children whose parents lack the awareness, knowledge, understanding of outcomes and resources to seek outside help. Even if these families can afford to get a diagnosis, our public schools don’t have the ability to support these children. This leaves parents with the unfortunate options of either keeping their child in an under-resourced school or paying for expensive specialized tutoring. (A select few can find a seat in a private school specializing in dyslexia). Furthermore, in most cases, the schools follow a misguided policy of having these students repeat the grade or they are referred for special education services that lack a true understanding of how to address dyslexia, further hindering and stigmatizing the child.

Many dyslexic students are able to mask their reading difficulties until the third or fourth grade. However, failure to identify the problem early usually magnifies the consequences. What was a manageable academic challenge in the first grade can become a far more significant issue in the fourth grade as the child falls further and further behind. In the worst cases, the outcome can be more tragic. A scientific study at the University of Texas found the prevalence of dyslexia in prisoners was almost 50 percent – more than twice that of the general population.

The good news is there are proven methods to educate children with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences. There are many examples of famous people who have succeeded with dyslexia, including President John F. Kennedy, Nobel Prize winner Albert Einstein, attorney David Boies, Apple founder Steve Jobs, entrepreneur Daymond John, heart surgeon Toby Cosgrove and many children who get the right education and help.

While we appreciate the Department of Education’s openness to a plan that would change how struggling readers get the help they need, right now New York City lags behind many other regions in dyslexia legislation, resources and care. We need to bring the teacher preparation techniques that have been successful in specialized schools to our public schools and create a new paradigm for literacy instruction.

Dyslexia (Plus) in Public Schools pushes for more than teacher training. More specifically, it involves:

– Increasing dyslexia awareness and training on dyslexia, its warning signs and appropriate intervention strategies for teachers and literacy specialists.

– Providing students access to proven teaching methodologies and helping dyslexics learn to use their learning differentiation to their advantage for success.

– Providing social-emotional support in public schools and access to affordable evaluations.

– Providing support for all parents in the form of advocacy, resources and knowledge.

– Developing partnerships between the Department of Education and CUNY to prepare teachers going into our public schools.

– Supporting policies and legislation now in Albany (such as A.4330A sponsored by Assemblywoman JoAnne Simon/S.5439 sponsored by Sen. Martin Golden) that require the certification or training of teachers, administrators and instructors in the area of dyslexia and related disorders.

Let’s teach every child to read and make sure each has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Daniel Dromm is a New York City Council member for the 25th district and the chairman of the Council’s Committee on Education. Robert Jackson is a former Council member and chairman of the Committee on Education, and a candidate for the New York state Senate.

Read more here.

City Budget Beefs Up School Construction But Doesn’t Ease Overcrowding

By Yasmeen Khan
Originally published by WNYC on March 8, 2016

When it comes to school overcrowding, and the city’s $14.9 billion school capital plan, there’s good news and there’s bad news.

On a positive note: the city’s Department of Education added $1.4 billion to its plan, with much of these funds allocated for building new schools or additions to buildings to ease overcrowding. This is a significant amount of money, first announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio in January.

The bad news? On top of the added $1.4 billion, the city would realistically need roughly $4 billion more in order to fully fund the Department of Education’s own estimated need of 83,000 seats. As it stands now, the city’s school capital plan funds about 44,000 seats — just over half the demand — through fiscal year 2019.

“We need to continue to fight to get that extra $4 billion into the plan if we’re actually going to meet the need that we currently have,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm at a hearing on the city’s school capital budget Tuesday.

The city’s estimated need of 83,000 seats — an increase of 33,000 from last June — is, in theory, good news as well. The revised estimate comes after the Department of Education changed the way it calculated space in school buildings, in order to get a better handle on school overcrowding.

For years prior, critics said the city’s accounting of school capacity grossly understated overcrowding.

The revised numbers showed that more than half of the city’s elementary and middle school buildings were overcrowded. And after these revised numbers came out, the city amended its capital plan to reflect the overcrowding.

“This is a very significant change versus prior years,” said Elizabeth Rose, deputy chancellor overseeing school facilities, who spoke at the hearing.

The school capital plan isn’t all about overcrowding, though. Here are some of the other projects funded in the plan:

  • The city is spending $670 million to create more than 7,500 new pre-k seats.
  • $450 million has been allocated to remove trailers. The city has removed 73 trailers since 2013, and has plans to remove 107 more. About 175 trailers still need a removal plan.
  • The city will replace all remaining PCB light fixtures by the end of 2016.
  • The city will spend $125 million to upgrade athletic fields.

Read more here.

Greater Metropolitan New York Social Studies Conference 2016

Originally published by the United Federation of Teachers on February 18, 2016


Queens City Councilman and Rosa Parks Award honoree Danny Dromm (third from right) with teachers (from left) Patrick Fortunato, Maria Katsanos, Sue Kirlew, Nyddia Lugo and Philomena Ejiogu of IS 238, Queens. (Photo Credit: Miller Photography)

More than 230 teachers participated in the 56th annual Greater Metropolitan New York Social Studies Conference sponsored by the Association of Teachers of Social Studies/UFT at UFT headquarters on Feb. 6. Awards were presented to civil rights leader and union activist Norman Hill and to Queens City Councilman Danny Dromm, a former teacher who now heads the Council’s Education Committee.

Read more here.

City Schools Finally Get Coordinator on LGBT Issues

By Andy Humm

Originally published in the Gay City News on February 4, 2016

Jared Fox, the Department of Education’s first LGBT liaison. Photo courtesy of the NYC DOE.

Jared Fox, the Department of Education’s first LGBT liaison. Photo courtesy of the NYC DOE.

The New York City Department of Education (DOE) has just appointed Jared Fox, an out gay educator, as LGBT community liaison, a position for which LGBT education activists have been agitating for more than three decades.

“I have a huge sense of urgency,” Fox told Gay City News. “We’re trying to make sure that LGBT people see themselves in the curriculum and that all students see LGBT people in the curriculum.”

In his first month on the job, he is meeting with people at all levels of the school community to figure out how best to make systemic change.

Part of being a liaison, he said, “is listening and part of it is getting things done. I want to get things done by building a long-term vision.” Fox is not just burrowing into the system. He wants to hear from people with ideas and is giving out his e-mail: Jfox16@schools.nyc.gov.

Out gay Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights, chair of the Education Committee and himself a former out grade school teacher, secured the $200,000 funding to pay for the liaison position and related activities in this year’s budget. He told Gay City News that Fox “is charged with coming up with a strategic plan for making the DOE a more inclusive environment for LGBT students, teachers, parents, and families” and that his committee will hold a hearing in June to monitor progress. Dromm said he wants a list of all schools with a gay-straight alliance (GSA) and hopes that the DOE central office at the Tweed Courthouse will finally have an LGBT Pride celebration.

“Invisibility is our biggest enemy,” Dromm said. “We can no longer tolerate discrimination anywhere in the city but especially not at the DOE, and now that I have oversight I will make sure that is the case.”

Lois Herrera, CEO of the Office of Safety and Youth Development, said in a written statement, “Our goal is to promote a positive school climate and culture that supports students in their academic and social growth.” Fox, she said, “will be working with city agencies and community organizations to help schools support, protect, and provide resources to LGBT students, families, and community members.”

Fox said that among the groups on an advisory committee that is meeting monthly on these issues are city agencies — including the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Youth and Community Development, and the Administration for Children’s Services — as well as such community organizations as the New York City Anti-Violence Project, the LGBT Community Center, pride community centers in Brooklyn and Staten Island, and the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youth.

To finally get a point person on LGBT issues in New York’s public schools, it took Dromm’s leadership, a more sympathetic administration in Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and the advocacy of groups ranging from the Gay Activists Alliance and the Gay Teachers Association in the 1970s, the Hetrick-Martin Institute in the ‘80s, and the Education Coalition on Lesbian and Gay Youth (ECOLaGY) in the ‘90s to the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, from the ‘90s to today. The culture has also progressed enormously on LGBT issues, but the schools — often scared of political fallout from parents objecting to any mention of homosexuality to their children — have been laggards, until recently.

Fox, 28, was himself the founder of the New York chapter of GLSEN. He had the experience of coming out at age 13 in the eighth grade and being bullied in a Catholic school in Cleveland, which led his mother to get him transferred to a public school where he was able to establish a GSA. His degree from Lake Forest College is in community organizing, activism, and politics, and he taught English for three years at a school near New Orleans where he also started a GSA.

Fox has worked for the DOE for the last three years in its Division of Instructional and information Technology, where “we spearheaded a movement to have a tech person in every school. Now over 80 percent have a tech person. We need to have the same success with LGBT students. It’s not like with computers and knowing how to turn them on and off. It’s about kids’ lives.”

Badges available to teachers interested in signaling that they are allies on LGBT issues. Photo courtesy of the NYC DOE.

Badges available to teachers interested in signaling that they are allies on LGBT issues. Photo courtesy of the NYC DOE.

Fox is working with the Office of Research to do a survey “and identify one person in every school to liaise with.” He explained, “It could be a GSA advisor or a teacher or a Respect for All coordinator.” The system’s Respect for All program is an overall anti-bullying program launched eight years ago.

In a system with more than a thousand schools and 1.1 million students, a lone community liaison faces a daunting challenge. To involve more school staff, the DOE is piloting a program that has staff wearing a badge that says “Out for Safe Schools” and has a rainbow and the DOE logo on it.

“It’s a visible representation of being an ally,” Fox said. “Students know if a teacher is wearing that badge that that is a person they can talk to” about LGBT concerns. This atmosphere-changing program has been enthusiastically taken up by large percentages of teachers in other school systems, including Los Angeles. In New York, 5,000 badges have been printed, and officials intend to have them on 8,000 staff by the end of the school year. The Out for Safe Schools campaign “also includes training for teachers and staff to provide them with support and resources for a successful implementation,” the DOE said.

“A lot of this is about a kid being able to know they are not alone,” Fox said. He sees more teachers who are out to their students than ever before, but this badge program allows students to see thousands of allies, LGBT and otherwise, in their schools.

Dromm said he wants to see LGBT-specific posters up in every school next to the Respect for All posters that aim to counter bullying. The Education Committee chair is pushing to have Fox’s position baselined by the administration in the June budget negotiations and expanded by the Council. The current funding includes $38,000 for the Lambda Literary Foundation to bring LGBT authors of color into the schools to dialogue with students.

“I’ve asked them to target schools that haven’t had programs,” Dromm said.

The budget also has $50,000 for Teachers College to do a full-day workshop for 150 instructors on “how to integrate LGBT issues into curricula,” with a special emphasis on “the intersection of race and sexual orientation,” said Dromm.

While AIDS education has been mandated since the 1980s and sex education more recently, Fox is concerned “that for many, it is heteronormative” and that there is “no conversation about safer sex practices” other than condoms and the availability of treatments such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a drug regimen aimed at preventing infection in those who are HIV-negative. To correct that and other shortcomings, Fox is meeting with “curriculum people, library facilities, every division, and every department.”

Thomas Krever, the longtime executive director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) for LGBT youth, met with Fox and said, “I’m ecstatic that this position now exists. It sends a very powerful message to young people and their families and the entire school community that there is now accountability for creating more inclusive schools and insuring that all young people are safe.” Because schools had been egregiously unsafe for LGBT students, HMI started the Harvey Milk High School in 1985 and is still its home, though it has been run by the DOE since 2002.

This position is definitely the right step forward,” Krever said. “In a large system, getting the information from Tweed to the young people is a process and now we have someone to close that loop.”

“For me, it’s the culmination of 25 years of work with ECOLaGY and other groups,” said Dromm. “In the early days, we couldn’t even get a letter from the chancellor” telling staff to be more inclusive and sensitive on the issue.

“This is a beginning step,” Dromm said. “We’re still going to have to fight.”

Read more here.

Progress for LGBT kids in NYC public schools

By the amNY Editorial Board

Originally published in amNY on February 1, 2016


This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook Elementary School in Smithtown at the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas.

There’s never been a comprehensive, citywide effort to address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender public school students and staff — or those who are unsure of their gender identities or sexuality. It’s been a hodgepodge of uncoordinated efforts, and it’s mostly voluntary.

Enter Jared Fox. He is the Department of Education’s new liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — a position that didn’t exist before this year. His goals are laudable. He hopes to create an inclusive curriculum that spans nearly every subject, rethink gender-based guidelines, establish a more hospitable workplace, and expand professional development for all staff, from secretaries and custodians to parent coordinators and principals.

It’s a shame it took so long for NYC to put these concerns on the front burner. One more for the “better late, than never” file. It’s been six years since 12-year-old Astoria public school student Elijah Mendez hanged himself, a decision his mother blamed on harassment from classmates who thought he was gay. Later that year, 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Indiana committed suicide for similar reasons. Then, Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Quickly, Seattle columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign — an effort to give gay and lesbian youth hope — spread nationally.

But even as that spotlight grew, in NYC, little changed. The last available school survey, issued in 2013 by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, found that students statewide said they’re still harassed and bullied, and schools still don’t offer the resources they need.

Thanks to a push from people like Queens Councilman Daniel Dromm, who was once a city public school teacher and came out nearly 25 years ago, city officials have taken a first step. Now, we hope Fox gets support from the DOE bureaucracy to make a difference. He must develop a strategic plan, create curricula, clubs and welcoming environments in every school, establish standards across the system, and involve staff and parents. Then, perhaps, he can reach the children, who need education, support and love.

Read more here.

Ed Department’s First LGBTQ Liaison Aims to Make Schools Safe for Everyone

Originally published in DNAinfo on January 26, 2016

Jared Fox is the first to hold the position with the DOE. Photo courtesy of Jared Fox.

NEW YORK CITY — Jared Fox’s first job when he joined the Department of Education was training teachers across the city to use smartboards, iPads and other technology.

But it was his volunteer after-school work as the founder of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network’s New York chapter that led him to his current groundbreaking position with the DOE — as the department’s first liaison for LGBTQ students.

“The thing that kept me awake at night was LGBTQ students, and making sure that they were safe,” said Fox, 28, who said he experienced discrimination while growing up gay in Cleveland and attending Catholic schools, and even as an adult while teaching in Louisiana.

“This position is really important for kids who are out and experiencing things [like] bullying and coming to terms with their identity. Then there’s also this huge population of kids who are still trying to figure out who they are.”

The position was created within the department’s Office of Safety and Youth Development to support LGBTQ students and work with the community.

So far, Fox has settled into the job by listening and meeting with principals, teachers and students. While some schools have established groups and resources for LGBTQ students, others are just starting to pull those things together, he said.

Lois Herrera, CEO of the Office of Safety and Youth Development, said the DOE hopes to “promote a positive school climate and culture” for LGBTQ students.

Fox is “a valuable addition to our team, who will be working with city agencies and community organizations to help schools support, protect and provide resources to LGBTQ students, families and community members,” she added.

Funding for the role was made possible by the City Council, which voted to set aside money in the budget for the position. Spearheading the charge was Councilman Danny Dromm, a former public school teacher who came out in 1992 and has been at the forefront of pushing for LGBTQ issues.

Dromm said when he worked in the classroom, gay teachers and students had to stay mostly closeted. He was even disciplined by his Sunnyside school administration after telling his students he was gay.

“The department has taken a bold step forward to assure students and teachers alike that anti-gay discrimination will not be tolerated and that, in fact, the department will look for ways to be more inclusive of the LGBT communities,” Dromm said.

For Fox, the journey to his new job has been a very personal one.

As a student in Cleveland, his mom had to pull him out of his local Catholic high school because of bullying. He transferred to his local public school, which he said was the “best thing that happened to me.”

While there, he started the city’s first gay-straight alliance, pushing for same-sex couples to be allowed at proms.

Fox later taught English through the Teach for America program in a New Orleans-area school, finding more students who needed his guidance.

The city is “a blue dot in a red state, but it’s still Louisiana,” he said, and many kids struggled with their identities.

He eventually launched another gay-straight alliance, this time as a teacher, helping students come to terms with their sexuality and offering a place for them to discuss it.

Fox’s three years as a teacher in Louisiana “helped me to build a lot of empathy with what teachers go through and having to make schools safer,” he said.

He joined the DOE three years ago in their technology department, and he’s excited to now be able to make his part-time passion his focus.

“As we go forward it’s first about listening and then about building a community-driven strategy,” he said.

Fox has taken an interest in the school curriculum, which he said currently only includes the history of the Stonewall Riots and the AIDS epidemic in its LGBTQ-related curriculum.

“That’s the only two things that’s state-mandated that kids need to learn — you have to fight, and you’re going to die,” he said.

He hopes to expand that curriculum by bringing LGBTQ authors into schools and adding their books to the curriculum so students have a more balanced portrayal.

Ultimately, Fox’s job is to make a more welcoming environment for everyone, including teachers, faculty and families.

“I want them to feel safe,” he said.

Read more here.

Time to Support New York Students with Billions Still Owed from Campaign for Fiscal Equity

By Hon. Daniel Dromm, Chairperson, NYC Council Committee on Education

Originally published in the Gotham Gazette on January 25, 2016

Council Member Dromm (middle), the author, at the Queens Library.  Photo courtesy of the Gotham Gazette.

Council Member Dromm (middle), the author, at the Queens Library. Photo courtesy of the Gotham Gazette.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently proposed budget plan for education is a mixed bag, but represents a major shift from his attacks on public education in years past. Ultimately, however, his plan falls short by allocating less than $1 billion in new education money this year at a time when public schools are still owed more than $4.4 billion in Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) funding.

The CFE was a lawsuit brought by parents against the State of New York over a decade ago. These parents charged the State with failing to provide public school students with an adequate education. In 2006, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding the State in violation of a student’s constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by underfunding schools.

Nearly ten years later students have still not received the money due to them. The State still owes New York City a staggering $2 billion, leaving our public schools woefully underfunded.

Even the $1.3 billion school aid increase provided in the 2015-16 budget was not enough to restore the massive cuts our schools suffered earlier in the decade. Public schools in immigrant and low-income communities are particularly affected, most of which are owed over 77% of outstanding CFE dollars.

Just imagine the transformative impact a $4.4 billion dollar investment in public education would have on our children’s lives. If adequately funded, schools would have the ability to hire additional teachers and school support personnel. Among other things, these sorely needed dollars would provide our students with a more robust physical education and help expand arts education in our schools. These CFE funds would bring about a dramatic reduction in class sizes in New York’s most overcrowded school districts. The possibilities are endless.

Credit where credit is due: I am excited that the Governor sees the value of the community school model and recognizes how successful community schools have been in New York City. Supporting students holistically—by offering support groups and child daycare for parents, access to physical and mental healthcare, mentors for students and other valuable services—will make them successful in many ways.
The $100 million he has allocated for community schools is welcome news, but falls short of the $500 million needed considering that these schools have grown exponentially over the past year.

I am hopeful that the Governor’s budget plan signifies a renewed interest in public education. But it’s high time he settles this ten-year-old debt. New York State must deliver the entire $4.4 billion in CFE funding it owes in order to truly do right by our children. Their futures deserve no less.

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