Clash of Color Palettes: LGBTQ issues take over board meeting

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Mike Musselman introduces the petition requesting the school board as individuals state whether they believed teaching sexual orientation to K-3rd grade students was appropriate. Josie Ringhofer, President of New Ulm High School’s gay straight alliance PRISM observes from the front row.

NEW ULM– The creation of New Ulm High School’s new gay-straight alliance club PRISM was announced to the District 88 school board minutes before a petition was submitted requesting individual board members state their beliefs on whether sexual orientation and gender identity were appropriate in Kindergarten through third grade.

During the student reports section of the board meeting, PRISM club president Josie Ringhofer, club secretary Ivan Neisen and school counselor advisor Caitlin Gloege gave a presentation on the club’s formation and mission.

Ringhofer said the name PRISM was chosen as it represented the group well. The acronym stands for Pride Respect Individuality Support Movement.

The club was formed over two weeks following a school assembly addressing alleged anti-gay incidents at a New Ulm High School basketball game. After the assembly two students approach school counselor Gloege about forming a gay-straight alliance club.

Gloege said to widely address students with concerns, an LGBTQ+ round table was held the following week. After the round table, five students came forward as a group requesting to be leaders of the gay-straight alliance club.

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt New Ulm High School’s new gay straight alliance club was announced. The club is called PRISM and was created based on requests from students at the high school.

The five students, with Gloege serving as an advisor, worked to solidify the purpose, structure and brainstormed ideas for the club. A few days later, the New Ulm student leader and adviser met with Principal Mark Bergmann to establish the club.

PRISM’s mission statement is: to establish a group that will create a safe and respectful space where LGBTQ students can support one another in New Ulm Public Schools.

PRISM president Josie Ringhofer said the vision of the club was to continue even after the student members graduate and be a group that is included in decision making similar to the student council.

PRISM would spread a positive message of equality. A goal would be to educate students on LGBTQ challenges and develop realistic solutions to these challenges.

Currently, the group is meeting every other week but may expand to every week next school year. Two full school meetings of the group have beheld with roughly 45 students in attendance.

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt A copy of the petition submitted to the New Ulm School board. The petition is requesting the board members individually state the opinion on whether it is appropriate to teach LGBTQ issues in school.

Board member Melissa Sunderman praised the club members for the work they put in and said it would be a real positive for the school.

At the close of the board meeting, the board received comments from individuals seeking to the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the school.

Mike Musselman brought a petition before the council requesting the individual members of the school board state whether they agreed or disagreed that:

“Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity is not appropriate in kindergarten through at least grade 3, and therefore any such instruction should be eliminated from those classrooms as soon as possible.”

Musselman said the petitioners believe the board has a moral obligation to publicly disclose their position on this issue.

The language presented in the petition was similar to language included in a recently passed Florida law, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay bill.”

Other individuals spoke about their concerns regarding LGBTQ discussions in the schools.

Lafayette resident Paul Platz expressed concern that rainbow-colored Eagle pride buttons were being worn by school staff. He believed the creators of these buttons should include a disclaimer it is not endorsed by District 88 but are created by community members.

Platz clarified that he believed staff had the right to wear the buttons because they fell under free speech protections, but did not want staff discussing LGBTQIA issues with minors.

“Parents are the ones to have this discussion with their children, not the education system,” Platz said.

Platz expressed support for the Florida law that prevented discussion of sexual orientation with K-3 students but also wanted the school to consider a policy that would require parental notification every school personnel talk to any student about any LGBTQIA issue.

Donita Platz also raised concerns about children learning about LGBTQ issues. Platz acknowledged that she had a gay son, but was not going to tell their kindergarten-age grandchild about his uncle’s sexual orientation because he was not old enough or mature to understand.

“This is for his parents to discuss for him when they feel it is appropriate and at home,” she said.

Donita Platz also expressed concerns that no one was advocating for students who don’t accept LGBTQIA beliefs and suggested a heterosexual club be offered in the school.

Donita Platz closed by assuring the board that even though she disagreed with gender identity and sexual orientation being taught in school she was not a “hater.”

“I can respect all, but not agree with all,” she said.

Michael Thom spoke in favor of the petition. He framed the need to block LGBTQ discussion in school as protecting children from sexual predators.

Thom wanted the board to formally state their position on teaching LGBTQ issues to allow the public to decide whether to vote for the board in upcoming elections or whether they should send their kids to other schools.

Mary Thom spoke last. She began by saying those speaking on behalf of the petition were not teaching their kids to bully.

“They are teaching their children to show kindness to everyone,” she said. “We don’t hate anyone in this room.”

Mary Thom acknowledged those in support of the petition, were trying to eliminate anything that contradicts their beliefs and their worldview when it comes to the instruction of their own children on sexual matters.

“Desire to leave this matter to parents is not hateful,” Mary Thom said. “It is not a display of ignorance or selfish privilege for parents to want to raise their own children.”

As the petition was not an agenda item, the board took no actions and gave no response.

The next school board study session is 5 p.m. Thursday, May 12, in the District Conference room, 414 S. Payne Street. The next regular school board meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday, May 26 in the District Boardroom, 414 S. Payne Street.


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