February 27, 2020
Chancellor Richard A. Carranza
NYC Department of Education
52 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007
Executive Superintendent Anthony Lodico
NYC Department of Education
715 Ocean Terrace, Building A, Room 200
Staten Island, NY 10301
Dear Chancellor Carranza and Executive Superintendent Lodico:
I am writing to you regarding Staten Island’s St. Patrick’s Day parade this Sunday, which every year includes the participation of several public schools. As you may know, I was among the first elected officials to boycott this parade, due to the parade committee’s exclusion of the Pride Center of Staten Island.
A letter to the editor in today’s Staten Island Advance by Licensed Clinical Social Worker Gigi Lipman raises important questions about the impact participating in the parade could have on young people.
“Many young people will march in the parade,” the letter stated. “They may march with their band, school or other organizations. Many will be LGBTQI, of Irish descent, questioning the truth of their identities. Many may not feel they are able to refuse to attend an event that does not welcome their friends or family members. We have to speak up for them.”
Well, I am speaking up and asking you to do the same. New York City schools have long maintained a commitment to a safe and supportive school environment for all students. The Department of Education’s guidelines on gender inclusion are far-reaching and inclusive. Student participation in an event that excludes LGBTQ organizations — just two weeks after schools observed Respect for All Week — is not in keeping with the values of the Department of Education.
The letter from this licensed mental health professional continues by sounding an urgent alarm: “There is an abundance of internationally recognized evidence that sexual identity is a risk factor for substance abuse and suicide (King et al. 2008). There are strong links between homophobia and self-harming behaviors. (McDermitt et al 2008). Our children are left to feel isolated, dirty, unsupported and ultimately unwanted. There is an undeniable connection between sexual identity and self-esteem. It is the responsibility of adults to intervene.”
I am asking that all adults in the Department of Education heed that challenge. We cannot send a message to LGBTQ youth – especially those who may be questioning their sexuality or fearful of coming out – that we tolerate discrimination. More importantly, we cannot compel these young people to participate in an event that makes them feel unwanted or ashamed. I am asking you to suspend participation in this event until policies are examined to ensure a safe environment for our students. If suspension is not possible, at the very least, principals, teachers, band leaders and students need to hear a clear message that participation in this event is strictly voluntary, with no consequences for those who choose to not participate. And they would need to hear it from you tomorrow.
My hope, of course, is that in the hours leading up to the parade, the parade committee has a change of heart. This should be a celebration of Irish heritage that brings people together on Forest Avenue, one that honors the many contributions Irish Americans have brought to our culture. But as long as the parade remains a symbol of discrimination, I don’t see how public school participation aligns with our stated commitment to provide students with a safe, supportive environment. The Department of Education must take action to reconcile these discordant values.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this urgent matter.
Councilmember Debi Rose
NYCC, 49th District
CC: Vincenza Gallassio, Superintendent, District 31
Council Member Mark Treyger, Chair, Committee on Education
Council Member Daniel Dromm, Chair, Committee on Finance