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Burbank School District, Parents Defend Rainbow Club After Complaints

Superintendent John Paramo addressed Burbank parents at a Board of Education meeting on Thursday after some members of the community voiced complaints that they were not notified about the formation of a “rainbow club” at Joaquin Miller Elementary School.

The club was founded by two fourth-grade students with the goal of creating a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and allies and provide for an environment away from stress or bullying, according to one public speaker who said they were a parent at the school. She stressed that the purpose of the club is for any child to feel welcome without judgement, regardless of identity.

“These are kids that are trying to find a spot where they can feel accepted, safe and supported — even if it’s for 15 minutes. That’s important and they need to have that,” Paramo said, adding that the club could be lifesaving for some children.

A group of parents accused the school and district of “operating in secrecy” by not sending notices about the formation and intent of the club, though issuing a public notice for a school club is not required by law.

Some parents said they didn’t object to the club itself, but asked for transparency from the district as to its nature. Others accused school staff of brainwashing children, calling the club inappropriate.

The Leader is omitting the names of students and parents who spoke at the Board meeting to protect the identity and privacy of children.

“We were never told about this new club especially about such a club that is all about sexual orientation and is very inappropriate for young kids to be exposed to,” said one woman, who said she was as a parent at the school, and does not agree with the club’s creation. “This is not acceptable in an elementary school.”

Other parents, who said their students attend club meetings, defended the creation of the group and emphasized that it is not sexual in nature. One mother was in tears talking about the experience her child had prior to the rainbow club.

“We’ve had a very difficult journey this year with bullying,” she said. “I never thought I would be a parent who worried about childhood suicide. It’s been a very real fear and concern in our family.”

She said that the rainbow club is seen as a safe-space community where kids can express themselves and be accepted for who they are, adding that no one is obligated to attend.

She shared a statement from her child, who wrote of the club: “You do not have to be queer, but you do have to be respectful. What we do there is talk about our feelings and do fun crafts.”

“I think some parents are scared of what they don’t know. They may be worried that their children are pressured to go to rainbow club. That’s not the case,” she said.

Paramo responded to parents, highlighting that the club has given kids “breathing room” to seek refuge from judgement, stress and bullying. He stated that he would make sure to communicate with parents about new clubs in the future.

“We will do a better job in communicating so it doesn’t feel like there’s anything going on that is sneaky, because there isn’t anything going on that is sneaky,” Paramo told parents during the Thursday meeting.

“I respect that people may not align with the rainbow club because of their personal beliefs,” he added. “You do have rights, and your rights are to not participate in the club.”

Another parent shared that her child had made an emotional turnaround after starting the rainbow club with a friend.

“Looking at the difference between my kid at the beginning of the year… I can’t tell you how big of a difference that made for my child. They look forward to going to school every day now when that wasn’t the case before.”

The mother said that other parents could find common ground on the issue, emphasizing that communicating about the club is not a bad thing. In the future, she said, she would love to send out welcome flyers inviting people to attend.

Paramo said that he himself could have benefited from a rainbow club when he was a child. Having been raised in a Catholic family, he noted, he felt pressure and fear that he would be judged at home and at church.

“I’d go to church on Sunday and hear from the preacher that, even when I died, I wasn’t going to go to the good place. Even at a young age, I started thinking, well, what the heck is the point?” said Paramo. “I could have benefited from a rainbow club, where for 20 minutes I could just throw myself on a chair and not worry about anybody looking at me like I was a freak, where I could breathe … and where I didn’t have to feel alone.”

First published in the May 4 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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