This interview is part of our School Board Voter Guide. The interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length. Sonya Emerick is running for an at-large seat on the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education. There are four candidates for two at-large seats. All Minneapolis voters can vote for two candidates for at-large school board representative.
Melissa Whitler: The first thing that I want to ask is, can you share with readers a little bit about your background and how it's relevant to being a school board member representing the city at-large?
Sonya Emerick: I have lived in Minneapolis my whole life, and I am a graduate of Minneapolis Public Schools. I kind of came into advocacy pertaining to MPS through this route of advocating for my own child who is 7 and receives special education services in MPS, and has really complex disabilities, global needs, needs a really high level of support, educationally, and in all facets of his life.
I found a couple of things to be true in my experience, which was number one, I really enjoyed partnering with educators. His birth to three teacher, the teacher who was working with us when he was a toddler, is still a friend in our life, and we still share resources back and forth. We learned a lot from each other. There was a real partnership there. She actually helped me get opportunities to talk to more educators, more early childhood educators in Minneapolis Public Schools and at the state level, because she felt like what I had to bring was really important. I found that I really loved partnering with educators and related service providers.
And I found, also, that every year it got harder on a systems level to advocate for my kid getting what he needs and what he deserves and what he is legally entitled to in terms of special education services. It got harder and harder to get systems level buy-in for him to be included in general education and for folks to acknowledge– and when I say folks, I really mean more to talk about the systems that are influencing administrators, as opposed to individual people. The systems are not set up for even really functional, good, collaborative, i.e. teams with great parents and great educators to find a way to include kids who have a lot of differences.
Then over years of doing this work for my own child that iterated for me to partner with other parents, other parent organizations, other nonprofit organizations. Grassroots organizing efforts where people were experiencing barriers to equitable access to education for all kinds of reasons, some of them pertaining to disability or special education. Some of them pertaining to race and racial inequities and white supremacy. Some of them pertaining to justice system involvement. Some of them pertaining to socioeconomic status or homeless and highly mobile status, being multilingual language learners or having a non-English home language. There's all of these sorts of ways that people can exist, students and families can exist in the world that creates a circumstance where the public education system is not well set up on a systems level to actually meet the needs and be responsive to the needs of a tremendous number of students and families.
And then we see that in our satellite level data when we look at things like test scores or exclusionary discipline or who's entering the juvenile justice system. Or who's leaving the district. I experience this as the ground level data in stories and in testimony with families and small organizations. But we see it iterated all the way up to our high level data and eventually it got to the point for me where I had to figure out how to intervene and interrupt these systems in a bigger way, and that was the impetus to my filing for candidacy for school board.
MW: Kind of switching gears, at the last board meeting, the board chair released a proposal for a hiring process for the next Superintendent. Have you looked at that proposal? What do you think about it? Are there things that you would change, maybe in light of what you've just said about your own interactions with the district and your advocacy work?
SE: Yeah, I have. I watched that school board meeting, digitally from home in real time. I have also reviewed the proposal a little bit after the meeting. There's a lot there. I appreciate that board chair Ellison brought forth a proposal, whether or not that ends up being exactly how we proceed. I think having a map of the suggested course of action is really smart and important, particularly with so much of the board turning over partway through the process.
I know that one of the pieces that came up for discussion was releasing this request for proposals for groups to consider partnership with, in terms of synthesizing the process and the vision of the district and the community stakeholder groups. What I took away from the discussion between the directors at that meeting was that there were some concerns about we have a lot to do and we need to figure out what pieces we can outsource, or if that is something that we can do in a way that feels good to our process. And there were also concerns about, if we outsource pieces of this process, as a group of stakeholders in this process, we don't want to give up any of our process to an outside partner. I can hear both of those concerns.
Knowing what I know, and also not being a decision maker in this process at this time, full on. It being important to explore what partners could exist to aid us in this process because I think that we are trying as a district to do so many things right now.
We're talking about strategic plan implementation, the climate and culture framework. We have relationships to repair. We have incredible academic disparities that need to be addressed.
We have a teacher shortage. We need more teachers of color. We have a lot of projects going on. So I think that it's smart and effective to figure out what partnerships exist that can help us make sure that we are able to address all of these pieces of interconnected work with efficacy because I don't want us to get spread too thin.
We do have to be able to do many things at once. I really like partnership and I think that of course the process to identify potential partners in and of itself has to be efficacious and has to be values-aligned and has to be something that we take feedback from community members and from families and from educators and other staff about. But I think if we can find a way to partner up, I mean–
Another piece of background about me is I've been parenting in poverty for 20 years. I'm culturally poor. I am long-term poor. I live in Section 8 housing. We have a lot of poor families in our district. Poor families know that you don't get anything done by yourself. You have to have those effective, trustworthy partnerships. I think we are in poverty as a district right now, and we need to be looking at poverty scholars and poverty scholarship, to see how do we survive this season of our district, where we are objectively impoverished as a district. We have a lot of folks who know how to do that, how to survive and thrive to the best of our ability in poverty.
And how to leverage resources from the community and from partners.
I have a tendency to want to be forward thinking, but also be looking at what's in front of us right now, the decisions that are in front of us right now. And right now what we're looking at is that we've just released a request for proposals as an exploratory step, those proposals are due back mid-October and so the next step that's going to be happening here is deciding if we want a partner for this piece of the work and if so, what's important to us about that partnership and what does that look like.
My thoughts right now are largely this is our first step. Can we do it in a way that feels like we have community trust? Can we do it in a way that feels like everybody who wanted to be heard got to be heard? Can we do it in a way where there's transparent, accessible communication out to our stakeholder groups, to our families, communities, teachers about what's happening? And also, are we involving students enough in the process? Because that's a priority to me too.
How I operate is iterative. This is our first step. Can we get it right? If we can get it right, great, let's do it again on the next step. And whatever we get wrong, can we fix it for the next step so that every step of the way we're building on what we are hearing is working and we're getting better and better and better at the engagement piece.
MW: When you say engaging with people in an effective and transparent way, do you have examples of that in mind?
SE: Well, I'll tell you something that I haven't told anyone else because I'm worried that maybe it's too out there, but who knows, Melissa? You're the one who's gonna get it.
Now I am still familiarizing myself with the policies that govern the school board, so if I say something in terms of policy, I'm still learning. As a parent in the district and as someone who watches school board meetings, when I was watching this last school board meeting, and we had our public comment, and then we went into our agenda. And then there was discussion among the directors about should we even release this request for proposals? I was thinking “There are people sitting in this room right now in chairs in front of the dais. There are community members, I'm sure, there's teachers, there's folks who came to this open school board meeting. Why don't we ask them? Why doesn't one of those directors say to those folks that are here right now, ‘Anybody have opinions on this that you'd like to share? Want to come up for a couple minutes to the podium? Granted, it's not the public comment period of the agenda. But it was a little dissonant for me that directors are having this conversation, and it's public and it's an open meeting, and there's people sitting, literally, right in this room, where those opinions could be heard and they're being recorded and shared publicly with everybody. You have a process available right now that you could spontaneously engage. I was just waiting, like, can we talk to you, right here?
I think the reason it doesn't happen is because we have this past practice way of thinking. Past practice has been where we do this and it's like, alright, well, that didn't work. At some point we have to say what are we going to innovate? Sometimes it's very challenging to innovate something new and sometimes it's obvious, easy, and you can do it right now- ask the person next to you, “What do you think about this?” So that's an example of how I think about it.
When it comes to engagement, we tend to think like we need to generate engagement or we need to generate feedback. As a community member, I think there is no shortage of community feedback that exists. We are talking about this school district every day, there does not need to be some mechanism to make that feedback exist. People are thinking and talking and theorizing and coming up with solutions. If there's not a mechanism to capture it, that's where we really need to be thinking about engagement, but we don't have to overcomplicate it.
MW: This leads into something else that I wanted to ask about. You kind of hit on it, but I'm going to say my question, and if you have more to say, you can respond, or I will let what you have already said stand. The district, with parents in particular, already has many avenues for feedback. Some schools have site councils, not all schools, and that's certainly an issue. There are parent advisory councils, like the Special Education Parent Advisory Council. There is the opportunity for public comment at board meetings and also the district has for many years had parent participatory evaluations. Plus people can e-mail or call board members or district officials. But there's also this narrative that the district doesn't engage parents. Or the district collects feedback but does not respond to it. Maybe that last piece is the feeling people have. They feel like sometimes they give feedback and it's not responded to. You've just put out one way to respond to feedback. Do you have any other thoughts on this particular topic, especially as it relates to parents in the district?
SE: Yeah, I have a lot. I’ll pick a couple this year with you. I do think that the district has really, especially in the last few years, been trying to be really mindful of the types of feedback that they've been receiving, and rolling that feedback into systems level decisions like policies, like the strategic plan. But I think one of the pieces that's missing is that… There's some newer thinking about this that uses street data. I don't know if you've heard of the book Street Data. But it talks about different levels of data, like on the ground data. Street is not, in this instance, meant to mean urban. It's meant to mean ground level, experiential data, the kind of data that you would get in a one to one conversation between a district administrator and the parent. This is granular, this is experiential, this is emotional, this is relational, versus test scores. Important but very satellite. Or top down data that tells us a big picture, but doesn't tell us a lot about a particular family or or even maybe a particular site.
I think that we take this granular data- something from a site council or from a parent advisory council or from a conversation with an individual- and it gets rolled into some high-level decisions. But a lot of times people who are providing this data or this feedback in a really ground-level, relational way, don't see it come back on a system level, because it's not coming back in a similar mechanism to how it was provided.
When we take that relationship level granular ground level data, and we mix it with a lot of other data, and we use it on policies and systems, and then we release information back about the policies in the system, it might be hard for that person who provided that more granular feedback to recognize how that feedback cycled back through in the policy.
I think that there could be more of an effort– and I think that this also fits into a cultural accessibility and culturally responsive and sustaining mechanism, too. Not everybody is going to have their best access to information about how their feedback was used in policy, reading policy or reading a strategic plan.
Some people are going to have better access to knowing their feedback was considered and utilized in a process by having a conversation, by having follow up that matches and directly responds to the way that the feedback was given. Because folks act from their cultures. If I choose, based on who I am and what my cultural background is and what my access points are, to provide data in a particular way, it will probably be best for me if someone comes back in a similar way to check back with me– we got your message, this is what happened with it, this is how we used it. This is our next point of contact instead of saying, well, didn't you watch a school board meeting and see the slides about the strategic plan?”
I'm part of the special education Parent Advisory Council. I think about things like, we had special education directors come to our meetings to do presentations about updates to our literacy plan, particularly for students who receive special education. That's super great. But what I remember it being is a 15 minute PowerPoint and then 10 minutes for questions. Then they could check the box saying that they got community feedback.
You're talking to a group of parents– we're lucky enough, and seek to have, a really diverse group, so linguistically diverse, racially diverse, and part of the city diverse. You have a lot of different access points to learning about something that can be as complicated as literacy curriculums for students receiving special education across need, across grades, across the entire district. And it's not 15 minutes worth of information to deliver. So there was not opportunity for meaningful feedback, because there wasn't even an opportunity to provide enough context and grounding to help there be exploratory thoughts that would develop the types of questions, that would actually be meaningful in terms of parents being able to get the information and provide inputs that could actually shape the decision making.
But sometimes it seems some of those mechanisms are more performative or exist so that at the end of the day, they can say we got parent engagement. Let's focus on actually going in really open and flexible with decisions not yet made to understand how the community and family input would actually shape decision making.
MW: I'm going to go back to the Superintendent. If you're elected, what are you looking for in that candidate?
SE: I'm looking for somebody who has a good grasp of the interrelated ways that systemic oppression works in a public school district, particularly racism and ableism. And who can identify all of the myriad points of intervention that have to be addressed in order to actually work towards dismantling these systems and how they impact our school district. Somebody who has the will to keep going when there is pushback, because there will always be pushback when people are trying to dismantle systemic oppression. And who has the leadership qualities to bring people with them. We need to get buy-in from as many people in as many stakeholder groups as possible, in order to really do the work that we need to do. There are lots of people who are already bought in and ready to go. And there are alot of people who you know are newer on their learning or unlearning process.
We know that when George Floyd was murdered, and you know everything that came from that horrible event in our city, opened a lot of people to learning and thinking about systemic racism and related forms of oppression in new and different ways. We need to keep people on their trajectories so that we can be, as a district, moving further and deeper into this work, because, I mean, that's my highest priority.
I would be looking for a Superintendent that had the leadership qualities and the will to dismantle racism and related forms of systemic oppression in the district. The strength to keep going, even if there's pushback and the leadership would be the ability to come meet pushback with curiosity, and with the idea that bringing folks into this process is going to make us stronger, and that folks are teachable. Adults are teachable. We are teachable as human beings, we can learn to better understand why we should be working together to dismantle oppression.
MW: Part of the work of the last Superintendent and the current board did was passing a strategic plan for the district. The current interim Superintendent and the current board are in the process of implementing that plan. If you're one of those board members, do you think that the board and the district should keep going with the strategic plan as it is or are there things that when you look at it you think need to be changed?
SE: I think we should keep going with the strategic plan. I think we've made an incredible investment in it. And I think that we've used years of community data to build it. And where I would build it out more is, we do have metrics in that plan. We have metrics around that satellite data, test scores and academic achievements that are specific. We also have metrics around conditions that need to exist in order for all four of those goals in the strategic plan to be achieved. And I haven't picked it apart, but we need to be considering additional metrics, and what additional data inputs are going to be needed in order to really understand what we need to do and how we're doing on it.
Minneapolis has over 70 MPS schools, not counting our contracted alternative learning sites. Every one of those sites is different. And every site has its own culture and climate. We need to really be looking at every site and what does implementation of the strategic plan for this site look like, right, because it's going to be different. The district is so big, it's going to be different from site to site. We need to build out that strategic plan with metrics that are as clear and on paper and trackable. But more granular on a site based level and then be tracking that.
I would want to take what we have, and then I would want to take it out of the satellite and bring it down to the ground so that we can see how it is playing out in every classroom for every student. I obviously don't mean tracking data on every single student. That high level data is important in terms of planning, but it doesn't give us the data we need to understand the experiences of our educators, the experiences of our students. I think the climate and culture framework comes in there, too. But again, that's a great framework that needs some really specific insight-based metrics attached to it so we can track implementation and communicate about how we're doing over the next many years with implementation.
MW: You have brought up the- I think you've used the term satellite data a couple of times, and part of that are these standardized assessments. That was another big topic at the most recent meeting, were these gaps between the ways that the district meets the needs of white students and BIPOC students, or students who qualify for special education services and those who don't. I'm curious what your gut reaction was when you see this? And then to follow up. There's a narrative that these gaps just reflect gaps in our society. They reflect issues of poverty and racism and ableism. And until we fix the external system that students come out of, academics can't improve. I'm curious how you respond to that narrative.
SE: With the test scores, when I see that it feels like a punch in the gut. The first thing that I think of when I see those scores and the disaggregation of that data, is, I think of the justice system and I think about what we know about literacy rates for people in the justice system. We don't actually even have a great way to measure literacy rates more locally. And specifically, I've been part of a small team over the last year that's been working to try to explore if we could get Hennepin County to do literacy testing as part of their juvenile probation intake process. Right now they do mental health and physical health screening in that process. But there's not a literacy screening. When a youth enters the juvenile probation system there's opportunity for them to get support pertaining to education into literacy. But if they're not identified as needing those support, they may not be rolled into that plan and we don't have a mechanism to identify the need. It also means that we don't have hard data about how many kids in Hennepin County, many from Minneapolis, come into the juvenile justice system without literacy skills, either experiencing functional illiteracy or low literacy skills.
We know nationally, there's like 85% of people in the prison system are not proficient readers. We know that when we are not teaching our kids to read, we are contributing to the school to prison pipeline. When I think about literacy equity, I think about it as reparations work. I think about it as liberation work.
I think that we need to be taking these test scores seriously because the gaps that they reveal in how we are meeting the needs of students will iterate in terms of their safety and their opportunities for the rest of their lives is what we are seeing. And I want to be really clear on this. What we are seeing is how our school district is setting Black and Indigenous and students of color up for futures of incarceration. We're doing this, we're having this impact. It's horrific. It's an emergency. So that's how I feel when I see that data.
That being satellite data, I feel like it tells us where the fires are. But not how to put them out. We've got to come down to the ground to evaluate where intervention is needed. We can use the satellite data to know where we need to intervene, but we need different data to tell us how to intervene.
Having those multiple data sources is really important. Because I do think those tests are racist. I know from having a disabled child, my child cannot meaningfully participate in those tests. I know that they are not accessible to everybody. We can sit here and talk about the accuracy of this. And I think that's a fair conversation to have. But we have to be somewhat dubious of the accuracy of the data when we know that we are working with tasks that are enacting white supremacy and ableism in our school system. When you look at those disparities, we can take them generally. I don't need it to be, yes, that's exactly that percentage point. And I know because I trust this test so much to give me this super accurate result. But we can see top down what that data looks like. And it doesn't have to be that precise for us to get a general picture. So I can take and agree with feedback that like our testing system isn’t equitable, and we still know what this data is telling us.
In terms of societal conditions. I told you that I am poor, my family is poor and my 7 year old has multiple disabilities. If somebody were to look at me– and look at my child who is curious and motivated and brilliant– and say that kid is not worth teaching to read because there's no hope for him, I don't want you to print what I would say to that person.
But I would say that's actually not too far from a real experience that I've had. When my child was entering kindergarten, he was five, and we were working on his new annual IEP, which we have to do every year. He's five years old and I said I want academic gold in this IEP, I want literacy goals in this IEP, and I was told by his IEP case manager he doesn't need academic goals, a functional IEP will be fine. And what that means is they only want to work on functional skills and they didn't think that at five years old he needed to have IEP goals related to literacy, related to reading or writing. And I fought for those goals. I got them in his IEP. Three years later, those same goals are still in his IEP with no progress. Because even though I got them in the IEP, they weren't taught.
So I know what it's like first hand, passionately, individually and personally to have a kid who's already been written off as can't learn, not worth teaching, not worth the investment. And I just can't believe it because I feel like you spend 10 minutes with my child with an open mind, with putting your belief gap aside, not yours personally, obviously. It is so clear how much of a learner he is. It is so clear that, given opportunities individualized for the way that he processes and the way that his embodiment is the way he learns, he has limitless potential. So I have to extrapolate that to all of our kids have unlimited potential.
My kid has the most restrictive segregated special education setting that exists in the country, federal setting 8 is homebound. He doesn't see other kids, he doesn't go to school. He receives his services here in our home. If my child, who is one of the highest need kids, if it's obvious to me that he can be taught, and he can learn, what kid can't?
What kid are we gonna point to? Because wherever that is happening, I want to put my body, and keep it there, until something different is happening. Because it's happened to my kid and I am running, literally because I want to stop it from happening to any child in our district.
Of course, poverty has an impact. I know. I live it. Of course, with the rise in violent crime that is traumatizing, so many of our kids have been impacted. We have to provide a free and appropriate public education. It is legislated, it is a legal requirement and appropriate means that we are addressing the needs of our kids and there is not one child in this district that cannot learn if their needs are being appropriately addressed, and the law is being followed. And that’s the hill that I will die on any day of the week, twice on Sunday.
MW: If you're part of the board, how do you make sure that every kid is getting taught, that that belief gap that exists, how do you address that?
SE: We need a Superintendent who's interested and dedicated to addressing it. The points of intervention are tremendous. There are so many of them, which means both that it's overwhelming, and that there are so many opportunities to do something different. We are opportunity rich. We cannot make the type of meaningful savings that really needs to be made unless we get investment from the state. So one thing we haven't talked about is how important it is to me, I think how important it is to pretty much everybody, that we are putting pressure on the Minnesota legislature, too.
MW: That's actually my next question and so I'll ask it and then you can answer it. Our current budget this year is balanced using temporary COVID relief funds, and those have to be spent by September 30th, 2024. What does the district do after September 2024? How do we address this budget gap?
SE: Well, I don't know. I don't know what we do after September 2024, because it's going to depend on what we do up to September 2024. We're going to have to work with the conditions that exist at that time. We need to be leveraging everything that we can to impact those conditions prior to that time.
I'm poor and disabled– certified disabled by the state of Minnesota. I receive disability services funded by Medicaid everyday. I should have been identified for special education services as a student, but I wasn't. I don't have a college degree, I don't have a career. I'm not the kind of person who testifies before the legislature. I'm not the kind of person who has those types of opportunities. I did last week.
I think some of the coolest community organizing that's been happening has focused on helping people get to the mic who don't necessarily have natural, easy opportunities to get to the mic. It's because of community organizing that has been going on for years and years that I've been a part of that I have had opportunities to testify to the legislature about school funding and about the importance of special education and English language funding cross subsidy and as a parent what that funding and investment means to me, to my child, to our communities, and to talk about what I've gone through advocating at the IEP table for my kid.
I think that's work that I have felt lucky to have the opportunity to engage prior to being candidates and I cannot wait to do more of it. It is not old to me yet. I think that looks every way from flipping the Senate, working on getting out the vote right now to that end. Not taking no for an answer. We need to partner across the state. I would personally be interested in partnering with some other teachers unions, partnering with other school districts and their boards of education. I sit on the board of directors for the Autism Society in Minnesota and we have a lot of partners in that realm, particularly the Multicultural Autism Action Network and the partnerships of those organizations were up doing really cool work to reach out to parents of kids who receive special education services in parts of Minnesota where there were senators against public education funding.
I also think there are educators, all of our stakeholder groups, but I think our educators, particularly, need to see their Board of Education directors fighting visibly, and actionably for this. We know that our educators are not being paid what they need to be paid. We know that there's no money in the district. It is the job of the board to be getting that funding to cover our expenses. They need to see that we're doing our job or that those directors are doing their job, if we expect them to go to work and do their jobs. That's fair and reasonable.
I think that there's a lot of hurt. I can understand why educators might be feeling abandoned. Part of that relationship, and it can be really important, is letting them know that the board is fighting for them. Hearing that their demands are coming from a place of being, in many cases, the most knowledgeable about what is needed on the ground, at their site and in their classrooms. And that they are believed when they're telling the board and administration what's needed.
MW: Here's my last question. For at-large, there are four candidates in the general election. Two have been endorsed by MFT and the Minneapolis DFL. All three of the other candidates are people of color or Indigenous people. One of your opponents is a former board member and another is a current special education teacher. Why should voters choose you?
SE: The most important thing that I believe I bring that is needed is that as a disabled person and as a person who is systems involved, as a disabled person and for whom disability is a culture, a family culture and a community culture– I think that representation is needed.
The Disability Justice Movement, and when I say DisabilityJustice Movement, number one, that's capitalized and number two, it is specific. It is not the same as the disability rights movement or the civil rights movement. The Disability Justice Movement was founded by queer and trans disabled people of color, and it's super intersectional, and it deeply informs all of my organizing work.
I know that almost 20% of students in Minneapolis Public Schools receive some form of special education services. And students who receive special education services are targeted for segregation. They're targeted for exclusionary discipline. And we see the disparities in academics. We know that they're leaving the district. They're being pushed out of the district. I know personally that my child's needs are not being met.
I know this because we did an MDE data request on it just six months ago. When we look at students receiving special education in Minneapolis public schools who are experiencing a segregated placement- that is our federal funding for higher placement– we see racial disparities that you would expect to see. Where, for instance, Black students particularly are over two times the average and white students are significantly lower than the average in terms of being in those segregated placements
Disabled people who are in the disabled community know how segregating a young child, statistically, means that that person is going to remain in a segregated setting through adulthood, whether that's incarceration, whether that's institutionalization, whether that is sheltered workshop group housing. And it intersects with racism very, very, very, very heavily and in a really entangled way.
Making sure that we have perspectives where we can come at these problems in the way that these oppressions play out, from all of the different stakeholder groups. Leadership of the most impacted is going to be really, really important. We haven't historically had culturally disabled people who are bringing that specific lens on the school board. It's one of the reasons that special education seems never to be addressed, whether it's in a large process like the CDD or the strategic plan, or whether it's in our smaller more daily practices. It's not talked about during Board of Education meetings. If it's not highlighted in policies, we're talking about 20% of our kids that nobody is talking about. I do think I bring it in a really different way, with really different frameworks and really different skills and a really different grounding from any of the other candidates.
Then the other piece that I would add that's interesting to a lot of people, although it's not always something I highlight, is that I am a transgender candidate, and there are eight openly trans or non binary school board members in the country out of approximately 9000. We are facing a time where we have legislation nationally targeting the safety and affirmation of queer, trans and gender nonconforming students. Educators and school boards are being heavily targeted with folks who are trying to introduce bigotry and hatred legislatively, policy wise or just being loud. It’s really important to have that representation.
I actually came out for the first time when I was a student at Anthony Middle School. When I came out, I was the only LGBTQ+ person that I knew of. I didn't have a single adult in my life that I knew who was openly queer. I didn't have a single peer. I didn't know anybody. I was the first out person that I knew and I think that that is changing, but I don't want to see us go backwards. We know that our kids who are trans and gender nonconforming need support, and we know that our educators need support in how to address these issues and that we have to be unified in making sure all of our most marginalized vulnerable and targeted kids are safe at school and safe to be who they are. That we are using assets based pedagogy to make sure that our kids feel really good about themselves.