Photos and story by Ken DeLaat, N3 News
The monthly meeting of the Grant School Board was anticipated with a bit of apprehension as the controversy over a mural expanded into a call from a few folks on social media to close the school's Teen Health Center. The issue received national attention a month ago when a group of parents objected to a painting done by a Grant student that graces a wall of the Health Center. They had issues with the mural’s depictions of gay and trans youth as well as some symbols they felt were promoting Satanism.
Confusion over the services provided by the Health Center seemed to be at the core of the concern. Add to this the dynamics of the last board meeting in October that devolved into a somewhat chaotic session where blaming and finger pointing took center stage and there were all the elements in place for another volatile meeting.
But it didn't happen.
There were, of course, dissenting points of view and speakers who expressed those views were passionate about their opinions but overall an air of civility reigned on this evening.
Grant Superintendent Brett Zuver set the table for the public comment section when he spoke to the challenges the past month has brought to the school as well as the community.
“We are better than this,” he said as he encouraged acceptance and tolerance. Zuver talked about the positive things happening at the school and finished with, “We are how we treat each other.”
After the board completed the business portion of the meeting attendees began to line up to speak. Some called out the board for allowing the events at the previous meeting when they felt mural artist 16 year old Evelyn Gonzales had been harassed and verbally abused. Some spoke to bullying being an ongoing problem at the school. Those opposed to the mural felt it was divisive and one speaker asked, “What about the rights of straight students?”
Those who spoke supporting the work of the Health Center numbered around twice as many as those who questioned the mural and the Health Center using words such as ‘lifesaving’ and ‘a safe place’.
Dr. Sarah Weers, Family Health Care’s Medical Director of the school-based health centers provided information on the parameters of their services dispelling the myths such as the distribution of birth control, referrals for abortions and gender change therapy and assured that Proposal 3’s passing does not change the current services of the Teen Center.
Ms.Gonzales, the artist whose work sparked the kerfuffle spoke toward the end of public comment. Obviously a bit nervous she nonetheless spoke a bit about her work and agreed to have one of the game symbols she used that looked like a demon removed if it caused problems. She added “I don’t see a problem with the rest of it. I think it has a good message.”
Gonzales received the loudest applause on a night where applause came frequently.
And despite the obvious differing views of those gathered at the meeting they each expressed their opinion in a manner that allowed for opposition without malice or derision. It felt like a step in the right direction for a school and community tired of being in the spotlight not for academic or athletic achievement but for controversy and divisiveness.
The meeting didn’t heal all the wounds the last month has inflicted in this latest front in the seemingly rampant culture wars. The social media sites in the area began heating up soon after the meeting was over.But there was what appeared to be a smidge or two of polite conversation, a dollop of deference and a smattering of sensibility at Monday’s meeting.
And perhaps those ingredients can instill a little hope for growth, tolerance and maybe even a little more trust.
The local Teen Health Centers at White Cloud and Grant have long been game changers in improving the physical, emotional and mental health of the students who access their services. They will likely continue to make a difference in the lives of area students long after the controversy over a mural has died down.