Chelsea King Martin

Chelsea provided WLAIC with the following position statements:

Issue 1: 

Please provide your views on the issue of teaching gender orientation and gender identity within the framework of West Linn-Wilsonville curriculum

When it was time for our school district to meet the Updated Health and Wellness Standards, which included the adoption of a Human Sexuality Education Plan, I engaged with the work completely. I listened to our community, to our parents, and to our students. I read the data and reviewed the curriculum. Based on what I heard and read, we need to be teaching our students about gender identity and sexual orientation in a comprehensive and inclusive manner. 

By the time students are in middle school, they have already internalized the dominant culture’s messages about gender and gender identity, and they understand their family’s value system very well. Many times, it is middle school when teasing and harassment begin, if not before. We heard from our students that they are ready to learn about gender identity prior to middle school. 

Our children are bombarded with gender normative messages from the moment they are born, and even before. They receive countless messages about what it means to be a boy or a girl, and these messages are often stereotypical. Most often, these messages portray cis-gendered individuals, which make up the dominant culture. It is in our student’s best interest to learn that there are many ways that a person may relate to their gender, and that the spectrum of normal is bigger than 2. This is what will best prepare our students to be the best thinkers for themselves and for the world, and to learn to draw a circle that is wide enough for many. 

We know that our non-gender normative students are much more likely to suffer from teasing, self-harm and suicide.  We also know that more information and education leads to healthier choices. Let’s teach our children about gender and gender identity. We have a more complex understanding of these concepts today than we ever have before and it’s time that we explore this understanding in our learning communities. We are doing this work and as a Board member, I will ensure that we continue to improve in this area. 

Issue 2: 

Please provide a statement concerning your views on equity within our schools, and the critical barriers to equity that you would seek to eliminate as a school board member. 

In education policy, we often talk about the opportunity gap. We know that students from diverse backgrounds are all capable of learning, growing and achieving. What some of our students face is an opportunity gap rather than an achievement gap. We close that opportunity gap by first being aware of the barriers we erect, and then decidedly removing the barriers.

As someone who values equity and has studied race, gender and class and the intersectionality of those structures, I have that awareness of equity and the structures that prevent it. This is a topic I continue to lean into and learn about, realizing that I come at this topic from a position of privilege as a heterosexual, middle-class, white woman. Awareness is a practice that I must remain engaged with and I do this work daily. 

There are two barriers that I would work to eradicate during my second term as a school board member. The first is the barrier to family-wage jobs. We know that not all students are on a college track, either due to their interest in academics or their family income, or both. I am interested in expanding opportunities for Career and Technical Education in our district high schools, so that all students can graduate with a diploma AND the skills they need for a family wage job. The second barrier to opportunity is access to professional care, such as mental health and medical professionals. During my second term I hope to create the conditions by which our district could open its first School Based Health Center. Access to medical and mental health professionals will reduce barriers to access, such as transportation and making time to attend an appointment when a student’s parent(s) work full time. 

Issues 3 & 4: 

What specific policy changes or additions would you pursue as a school board member to provide clarity to our students on the issue of addressing incidents of bigotry and hate within our schools? 

What else can the School Board and District administrators do to address the social problem of racism and bigotry, and build individual character evidenced in how students treat one another? 

In Section J of our policies, we have many policies that prohibit harassment, bigotry and hate. When the West Linn Alliance for Inclusive communities advocated at the Board level for a policy review, I was the sole Board member to participate in that policy review. I engaged in conversations with my fellow Board members, our superintendent, other administrators, legal staff, and the Oregon School Boards Association. The result of that work was the amendment of 5 policies. 

Our schools are microcosms of our communities. When hate and bigotry exist in our culture, it will exist in our schools. In West Linn-Wilsonville, we are working hard to eliminate this type of behavior, in the classrooms, in our hallways, on our buses, and in our commons. We have curricula to address this and professional learning communities who are unpacking the concepts. We bring in speakers, show films, facilitate conversations and more, in effort to eliminate this type of behavior. We have anonymous tip lines, and anonymous comment boxes. We have student organizations and equity consultants. 

It is my hope that in partnership with our communities, our schools can be a place where our students are free from hateful speech and behavior. I also know that as long as we have a nation that has not healed from the trauma of hate, we will have schools that are continuing to do that work of healing. No matter how much we do in our schools, they will reflect that which occurs on the national scene. 

Our administrators and teachers are reading books, attending workshops, and engaging in conversations to unpack and reverse phenomena like internal bias and prejudice. As a Board member, I am equally as engaged in that work. I know that our students are learning what it feels like to act from a place of compassion and kindness and what it feels like when we don’t.

I vividly recall a time that I was a middle school aged student, standing in front of my school on a sunny day. We students were waiting to be picked after school. A pick-up truck pulled up with music playing loudly and a girl with what I assume was a developmental disability was “rocking out” in the back of the pick-up truck (prior to laws about kids riding in the back of trucks!) When they pulled up to the front of the school, some of my peers mocked her. She saw this, and her face fell. She stopped dancing and singing and sat still and quiet. I observed this and in that moment I learned the impact that hateful behavior had on another person’s being. Sadly, our young people are living those types of experiences. We cannot take those experiences away from them. We can only provide the conditions by which they can learn from them, repair them when mistakes are made, and intervene when they observe this type of behavior. 

At this point, I do not believe there is a single policy addition or edit that will make our communities safer across difference. I believe it is relationship: learning, connecting, forgiving, restorative practices, and other difficult processes and conversations that will continue to move us toward a more loving and kind community. That said, I will continue to learn about policy alongside my peers, and will always advocate for policy changes that will move the dial on this work. 

When we were doing the work to pass a comprehensive human sexuality education curriculum,  I conducted a large amount of outreach to our community to ensure that diverse voices were represented in our decision making. One outcome of this work was a community forum that approximately 300 community members attended. At this forum, there was meaningful conversations that occurred across difference. I sat at a table and engaged in conversation with parents who felt their children were ostracized and harassed for their conservative values, alongside a parent who is married to a transgendered individual, and alongside a teacher who is charged with creating the very environments we hope to foster. This type of conversation is what we need more of. It was difficult and required a large amount of energy to create. These conversations must be structured carefully and thoughtfully so that they would be successful. I am interested in how we may do more of these. 

I will advocate that we continue to bring in our parents to do the learning and have the conversations that we want our children to engage with. It will take all of us, in addition to our teachers, students and administrators, to do this deep work.

Issue 5:

Would you support a more visible and inclusive recognition of Black History Month district-wide? Please explain your answer with specific reasons. 

From my perspective, it is true that Black History month is not a formally recognized event at the district level in West Linn-Wilsonville. Our students learn about slavery and its history in the United States, and they do learn about leaders from diverse backgrounds, studying Dr. Martin Luther King, JR and Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights movement. Similarly, we do not recognize Latinx Heritage Month at the district level, and statistically this is the largest ethnic minority group we have in our school district. Additionally, we do not recognize Women’s History Month at the district level, even though we just recently hired our first female superintendent. We also do not formally recognize Labor History Month, although labor is at the core of power systems. All of these recognitions are important, and one does not diminish the importance of the other. In fact, there is intersectionality between all of them. Socio-economic class plays a very large role in the systems of power that have oppressed different groups in the United States. 

I always support our students understanding the history of our country, the co-cultures that shaped it, and the role that power and oppression played in building our social and physical infrastructure. I want our students to learn to celebrate the histories of all groups, and understand the unique dynamics that have shaped the stories we pass on. I would support a formal recognition of Black History Month, yet I wonder if we would also then need to honor each group’s month long celebrations as well. 

In truth, what I am more interested in than formal recognition of a history month, and what I believe would be more effective at implementing change, is weaving the stories of African-American culture, Latinx culture, Women’s contributions, the Labor Movement, the LGBTQ movement, into our regular conversations. The choice of curricula, the texts we read and the films we show, the speakers we bring in, the music we perform, the art we study… all of these decisions shape whether or not we are honoring the histories of the many groups who contributed to building this strong nation. I do not oppose honoring these month long celebrations, I simply believe that a more effective way to do this work is to continue to integrate the stories and histories of all our communities into our daily studies. We do need distinct recognitions, and we need full integration.