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Peirce principal surprised complaint was filed

rainbow wordsFirst-grade homework at Peirce showing Mr. and Mrs.

UPDATED: Helping Peirce first graders recognize "Ms." will go forward this fall after an agreement about communication involving the town Human Rights Commission, and now the school's principal has added her voice.

When YourArlington first reported the story July 6, Karen Hartley, the principal, was unavailable. In a phone call July 9, she made clear that teaching the honorific for woman was acceptable to her and that, before a complaint was filed, she had been willing to formally include it in the fall.

She expressed surprise that parent Rebecca Pearl-Martinez, who has a background in gender issues, filed a complaint with the rights commission instead of first asking the administration of School Committee about it.

Hartley said the list of words in question -- including "Mr." and "Mrs.," but not "Ms." -- was handed out in early June, shortly before the parent questioned it via email. The principal said the word list is part of a district curriculum, and is not particular to Peirce.

"We had no intention of excluding anyone," Hartley said she told the parent. In fact, she said, the curriculum is part of a diversity and cultural-proficiency effort that has continued through the 2017-18 school year.

Clarifying commission's role

Naomi Greenfield, cochair of the rights commission, posted this statement on Facebook July 10:

"At the June 20 AHRC meeting, the commission decided they had jurisdiction over the complaint because it alleged gender, gender identity, and family/marital status discrimination and voted unanimously to support the solution proposed by Pearl-Martinez, not the AHRC, in her complaint.

"This solution was to have an email communication from the school regarding their intention to include the teaching of 'Ms.' alongside 'Mr.' and 'Mrs.'

"Regarding the curriculum change itself, that decision rests solely with the schools.

"The commission is extremely supportive of the schools’ continual efforts to ensure inclusive terminology is used in the classroom, including in this instance. We’re so lucky to live in a community where our schools prioritize making our classrooms a more welcoming and accepting environment for all."

Background about cultural competency

In May 2017, the School Committee heard from four members of the public, include a member of Superintendent's Diversity Advisory Committee, decrying a lack of progress on a goal aiming to improve cultural competency in 2016-17. The next month, principals laid out plans to improve in 2017-18to improve in 2017-18.

Returning to the events of last month, Hartley said she suggested to Pearl-Martinez that, with the end of the school year looming, it would not be practical to change work sheets to add "Ms.," but that could occur in the fall.

She emphasized the small community at Peirce, calling it "a wonderfully diverse school."

Among a long series of posts on the Arlington Parents Facebook Group were those supporting Peirce teachers. These comments included those from town Treasurer Dean Carman, who threatened to seek removal of the chairwoman of the rights commission for overstepping authority in what he sees as plainly a school matter. He cited the parts of the commission bylaws.

Carman has not responded to a request for comment.

July 6, 2018: Accord points to first-grade use of Ms. at Peirce

April 17, 2018: Change in Colonial Days policy draws committee support, public objections

This news summary was published Tuesday, July 10, 2018, and updated with a statement.

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