My School Superintendent’s 2-Minute Phone Call Threatened My Safety
On Monday evening, I was sitting on the couch in my living room, cuddling with my dogs and watching "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" on Netflix. It was a normal Monday night for me, nothing out of the ordinary.
However, around 6 p.m. I picked up the house phone and received a phone call that I will never forget.
The phone call was a robocall from Charlie Van Zant Jr., the superintendent of my school district, and the words he had to say terrified me. He announced that the schools under his jurisdiction in Clay County, Florida would not be following the Justice Department's memo on transgender equity in schools.
The content of the call can be seen in a YouTube video he posted.
This video is an exact replica of the message I received Monday evening:
For some reason, the man in charge of my school system, a man who is supposed to be looking out for the welfare and well-being of all students, decided to use a public forum to send out a message full of hatred, discrimination, and indoctrination. I do not understand why he feels that keeping his "traditional family values" intact is more important that the safety and comfort of the students in his schools.
After listening to this phone call in full, I called my dad in tears, telling him that I didn't feel safe at school anymore, that I didn't want to go the next day.
As someone who feels passionately about the well-being and inclusion of all students, I felt violated. I grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts. I was so used to queer students being welcomed by school administration with open arms and embraced, not being shunned and forced into uncomfortable situations.
Once my dad came home from work, we called every school board member to express our anger and learned that this phone call was not formally sanctioned or authorized by the school board. We shared our reaction to his call on social media, and my dad even emailed Superintendent Van Zant himself.
In our posts, we focused on a few main points. First off, using an all-call system to make a call with such a hateful message was ironically a "gross overreach of power." Mr. Van Zant used a school district resource to infiltrate the safe space that is my home. He took his personal, political, and religious views and inserted them into a public school system.
I do not attend a religiously affiliated school. This is a public school, a melting pot of students, and diversity is supposed to be celebrated. Public schools are not meant to be a breeding ground for this type of hatred.
Secondly, if this country had followed the ideals put out by Mr. Van Zant and others who support him, we would be living in a country run by prejudice and fear. We would still be segregated by the color of our skin. This phone call reminds me of Alabama Governor George Wallace, someone who also happened to be on the wrong side of history and has paid the permanent price for it, being remembered in such a negative light.
Lastly, by deciding to make this move fueled by ignorance, Mr. Van Zant marginalized a group of students, and decided to place the oppressors over the oppressed. How many trans people listened to this phone call? How many students (transgender or otherwise) were offended by this message of hate?
Placing political and personal views aside, this phone call was out of place and inappropriate. The Superintendent of Schools should not be making his school an unsafe place to be for any student.
In my county, the superintendent is an elected position, and this phone call seemed to be more of a political grab for attention during an election year than a true concern for students in schools. The real threat here isn't the trans students who just want to use the bathrooms like everyone else. The threat that this phone call shines a light on is the hatred perpetrated by people who misuse the power they are given.
I plan on speaking at my next school board meeting to share my dismay with Mr. Van Zant's actions, and also set up a meeting with the superintendent himself.
i will sbe speaking at the meeting tonight, and will be using the audio recording to quote things he said. hope you all are staying safe.
— caro (@grenmeh) May 19, 2016
I don't appreciate Mr. Van Zant inserting this type of bigotry and prejudice in my country, in my school, or in my home.
Caro Barkowitz is a high school student in Jacksonville, Florida. Caro is the president of the GSA, active in the musical theater department, and a rising junior in the AICE Academy of Advanced Studies. Caro hopes to one day work in DC and change the world.