Board vetoes “Safe Space” stickers following a 6-3 vote

Board vetoes “Safe Space” stickers following a 6-3 vote

Emily Wisnesky

Students in the LGBTQ community are 4 times more likely to commit suicide compared to straight high school students. This issue was brought up in a school board meeting held on August 4th concerning the “Safe Space” stickers, which were created by the PAHS Gender and Sexuality Alliance club. This meeting was followed by a vote on August 9th: 6-3 in favor of banning the program. 

As explained by a club member, these round, rainbow-ringed stickers with the words “SAFE SPACE” printed on them told students that they weren’t alone. According to teacher and GSA club advisor, Heather Good, they were meant to let students know who was able to listen to their “concerns about LGBTQ identity and point them in the right direction for more help if necessary.”

While the sticker’s original purpose was to act as a safe haven to students in the LGBTQ community, they also represented a teacher’s willingness to talk about a multitude of problems. Paige Zinzella, biology teacher, says that the symbol “applies to all students.” Plenty of teachers enjoy helping kids through personal conflicts. Good reports that over 30 (teachers) showed interest in receiving a copy of the sticker. Teachers who did not request a sticker aren’t all necessarily opposed to them. For some, it is not within their comfort level to discuss personal matters with students. 

The Punxsutawney Republican Club was the initial party to express concerns about the “Safe Space” program to the board. Their letter discusses “steering children towards the LGBTQ agenda” and encouraging kids to start “behaving like and pretending to be other species,” according to an article by the Punxsutawney Spirit

An anonymous member of GSA, in response to the second allegation, says in an interview, “Apples are fruit, but not all fruit are apples.” Likewise, students who act like animals participate in GSA, but that isn’t a value that the club governs, nor did they have it in mind when creating “Safe Space” stickers. 

According to the Spirit, Lauren McLaughlin—assistant principal—brings to attention that the kids who generated and find the safe spaces useful are marginalized students who face serious issues (such as abuse and suicide). Matt Kengersky, a member of the board, inquires on why they don’t feel safe at school. McLaughlin responds that this is not something administration can necessarily fix, but it isn’t a topic that can be brushed under the rug.

“…I don’t want to divide our classrooms or our hallways in any way, shape, or form,” Kengersky says.  “[Referring to the allowance of opinionated stickers]…that is just going to split the school up more and more. I don’t want to do that. I would like to be supportive of this club and of diversity, but I want a neutral education environment for everyone. I think that separating these kids is not doing that.” 

Although we don’t like to admit it, every student in our school has witnessed—if not participated in—the harassment of kids who stand out from others. Mockery, vandalism, rumors, verbal and physical abuse; these are all forms of bullying that are extremely normalized in high school. While the actions of students are hard to change, these stickers created, according to a club member, “A place without discrimination or harassment, or any sort of negative acts.”

As phrased by Zinzella, these safe spaces were places where students could feel comfortable expressing themselves. Her viewpoint on the topic was similar to Lisa McMeekin’s, who says stickers gave kids the “freedom to talk about relationships without judgement.”

Cindy Depp-Hutchinson is the president of the school board; she voted against the ban. In the Spirit’s article, Depp-Hutchinson stresses the need for LGBTQ identifying students to be able to access education free of discrimmination. 

“These students, whether they are gay, lesbian, or transgender, these students in particular in this school need to know that there is some place that they can go that is safe and that is not judgemental. That’s why this is so important.”

Katie Laska expresses her concerns about these stickers, one of which was the loss of instruction time. She argues that students should be referred to counselors. “That should be where they take the next step. I don’t feel our teacher should be taking time from teaching…and making it a therapy session room. There are guidance counselors for that reason and therapists for that reason. If we need more therapists on staff, we should hire more…”

As reported by Justin Felgar, Janey London contends that a teacher’s job consists of much more than just instruction. “Kids bring in more baggage. Teachers sit and talk to kids constantly…That’s part of what teaching is.”

Both McLaughlin and London suggested that, since this was a student-led program, the teens behind the movement be brought into the conversation. A majority of the adults who voted against the ban were in favor of gathering a point-of-view from the source: students. 

Although the first GSA meeting of the 2022-2023 school year has not yet taken place, a voice of the club says that they may try to reintroduce the stickers to the board, seeing as the board didn’t invite the club to speak. They said they shouldn’t have to “fight tooth-and-nail for acceptance.” Students shouldn’t have to do things that should have been done by adults a long time ago, the club member attests. 

Zinzella attended the meeting and hopes that the board replaces the program as promised. According to her, taking down the stickers tells students that the “school is only interested in their academic success and not their social, emotional, and mental wellbeing.”

Many students and staff at PAHS can probably relate to Good, who says “The decision to take down the stickers made me sad.” Guidance counselor Jennifer White says she hopes that students can find someone to confide in, whether that person has the answers or can point them to someone who does. 

GSA advocate says, “[The board is afraid] accommodations might ruin their reputation.” The loss of this symbol is a loss of free speech, they claim. 

Sophomore, Charlie Compton, sums up a widely disputed concept that is simple in reality. She says, “People should be more accepting of the changing world.”