Rachel Stonecipher was one of two MacArthur High School teachers removed from the campus after questioning the removal of Safe Space stickers.

In 2017, administrators at Mansfield ISD suspended once-Teacher of the Year Stacy Bailey, placing the elementary school art teacher on leave because she showed a picture of her female spouse to her class. Bailey filed suit, and a federal court ruled in her favor, declaring her suspension to be unconstitutional. And in February 2020 — more than two years later — the school district finally agreed to pay Bailey $100,000.

As part of their efforts to put the matter completely to rest, Mansfield ISD administrators also agreed to provide mandatory training to human resources and counseling staff on LGBTQ issues in schools, and to require the Mansfield ISD board of trustees to vote on whether to add protections for sexual orientation into its policies. Unfortunately, the board rejected those protections in a June 2020 vote. But MISD officials in October that year did appoint a new diversity and inclusion officer, and they voted to undertake a diversity audit to see how much the district had improved on LGBTQ issues in the three years since Bailey was first suspended.

Results of that audit, conducted by Texas Association of School Administrators and Curriculum Management Solutions Inc., were presented to the board in February of this year showing that, not surprisingly, the district has not improved much at all.

Among the recommendations from the audit were that the district should clearly define expectations and direction for equity and inclusion, close opportunity gaps for low-income students and students of color, put in place stronger systems of intervention for at-risk students, create a more diverse curriculum and address so-called “cultural blindness.”

And according to some responses received during the audit, homophobia is common on some campuses: “I still see homophobia and racism everywhere, and it tires me that I don’t see anyone standing up for the victims,” one middle school student told the researchers.

At MacArthur High School in Irving, the new school year began in August with a new principal, Natasha Stewart. And Stewart made her presence known immediately by removing all the Safe Place stickers from classroom doors and then removing two teachers who questioned the action.

After a large group of students staged a walkout in protest and the situation became public knowledge, Stewart said she had the stickers removed because Irving ISD wants every student to see every place in the school district as a safe place. And while she’s right that every place in school should be a safe space, that’s a dream, not a reality, something that has been clearly shown in the aftermath of her controversial move.

With the removal of those teachers, including openly lesbian teacher Rachel Stonecipher, the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance was gutted, because Stonecipher and the other teacher removed from the school were the GSA’s principle sponsors.

The student walk-out and protests targeting Stewart embarrassed the administration. Administrators’ efforts to quiet the controversey did little to help.

Speaking to the GSA students, Stewart said she would have handled things differently had she known the MacArthur High GSA was such a large group. To students, through those comments, Stewart was admitting her treatment of the GSA and two teachers was simply a power play to demonstrate she was in charge and that she might have targeted another group just as easily.

That meeting ended badly when one of the students told the principal she hated her.

Meanwhile, Stonecipher, has been replaced with a substitute to teach classes and run activities like school newspaper and yearbook.

One student, Elle Caldon, who addressed the issue in a newspaper article for her journalism class, had her assignment rejected without it even being read. So, she interviewed more students and expanded the piece for Dallas Voice. What Caldon found is that bullying at MacArthur High School has increased over the months since the Safe Space stickers were removed and the two teachers suspended, and students are finding far fewer safe places on campus. Certainly, every place on campus is not a Safe Space for Irving ISD’s LGBTQ students.

— David Taffet