In June 2016, the public charter school, Great Hearts Academies, adopted a policy that discriminated against my young transgender daughter. I tried my best to respect the school’s protocol and worked to present my concerns up the school’s chain of command. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that the school was not willing to give me an opportunity to voice my concerns to anyone who could effect change. Great Hearts gave members of the community no opportunity to better understand the history of the discriminatory policy or how leaders came to their policy decision. The door to this public school was slammed shut by leaders at the top and left me without the opportunity to discuss sensible alternatives that considered the dignity and safety of every student at their schools.
The anti-transgender policy at Great Hearts was crafted, discussed, and approved in secret, then later pushed out to their campuses in an authoritarian fashion. The policy carried a tone of intolerance and directly affected the health and safety of their students. Great Hearts is a public, taxpayer-funded school and it implemented a policy affecting 15,000 students without the opportunity for public engagement or public commentary.
This is not appropriate for a public school.
Gaps in oversight have allowed charter schools to get away with discriminatory policies that push children out of the classroom and have allowed charter holders, private entities that manage public bodies, to shield schools from Arizona law. This often results in self-serving interpretations of what it means to be a public charter school. Some public charter schools have quietly decided behind closed doors what information the public is entitled to review, whether that’s an accounting of public money, scrutiny over business partnerships and land deals, or how school policy is discussed, codified, and adopted.
The standard for transparency that Great Hearts has set for themselves is inadequate, misguided, and erodes trust in our charter school system. In the case of its anti-transgender policy, families within the Great Hearts school community were intentionally cut out of discussions. All of these discussions ought to have been held in a public forum. All of these decisions ought to have been open to public scrutiny.
Arizonans deserve a public charter school system that is open and transparent. We have a right to question public school policy publicly. We have a right to question public school leadership. We have a right to see how our school leaders draft and debate policies that directly affect our children. Every family in Arizona deserves the opportunity to follow the discussions and debate that affect their public schools. This is the only way can we be assured that our public school officials are held accountable for decisions made on behalf of their public school community.
Along with the ACLU of Arizona, I am asking a court to clearly define how open our public charter schools must be. Our public school systems cannot serve the people of Arizona when corporate management conceals operations underneath an opaque veil.
Before we trust our children to your schools, we must build trust in the schools themselves.