The time to fight back — and fight forward — for reproductive justice is fast approaching. The stakes are high in this year’s state election, with candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and other races on the ballot. The Arizona general election will be held November 6, 2018, and with early voting beginning on October 10. Voters need to be registered by October 9 to cast their ballots. Reproductive health has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who put our health and our rights first. Get to know them now in our series of “Meet Our Candidates” interviews, and make your voice heard in 2018!
Phoenix Union High School District is one of the largest high school districts in the country, with 20 schools, more than 27,000 students, and nearly 3,000 employees. Phoenix Union covers 220 square miles of Arizona’s capital city.
Stephanie Parra has served on the Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board for the past four years, representing PUHSD Ward 3. With Ms. Parra’s leadership, in October 2015, the Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board issued a resolution regarding inclusive comprehensive health education. Although they were proud that their newly comprehensive sex education policy was “a significant step forward,” they expressed regret that it was “not truly inclusive.” Despite the Governing Board’s wish to be inclusive of all students, including LGBTQ kids, an archaic state law — nicknamed “No Promo Homo” — has the district in a straitjacket. The school board has called this law “offensive” and “shaming,” and states that it “has no place in Arizona educational policy.”
“The more we can educate students about the importance of healthy relationships, the better prepared they will be when engaging in relationships.”
“No Promo Homo” refers to one of Arizona’s most disgraceful, archaic laws. The offensive language is planted in the HIV Prevention Education section of the law, stating that education shall not include “instruction which (1) promotes a homosexual life-style, (2) portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style, (3) suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” To be clear: The purpose of this law is to degrade and shame students who are already at a 40 percent increased risk of suicide. It does nothing to attain educational goals or protect the health or safety of students. Only six other states — and Russia — have laws similar to Arizona’s No Promo Homo law.
On August 30, 2018, Ms. Parra was gracious enough to take time from campaigning to share some of her story and vision for PUHSD.
Please tell us a little about your background and why you’re running for this office in this political climate.
I have dedicated my life to improving the lives of children and families in Arizona. I began my career in social work, advocating for children at risk of abuse, and quickly learned the critical role that educators play in the lives of our youth. That realization led me to a career in education and I have now found myself serving as a full-time public school advocate.
Our public schools are critical hubs of support for families in our state, especially working families. I have been privileged to serve on the Phoenix Union Governing Board for nearly four years in my first term, working for an incredibly diverse population of students, families, and school district employees. I’m running for a second term to continue moving the district on the upward trajectory that we have been on. Under our current leadership, Phoenix Union has become a model portfolio school district that pushes innovation and celebrates diversity and inclusiveness. Our progressive policies have made Phoenix Union the largest urban system in the country with the lowest dropout and highest graduation rates.
As the government relations director for the Arizona Education Association, I have been heavily involved in the #RedForEd movement. I am committed to public schools in this state and work every single day to make Arizona schools a place where any child can have access to a high-quality public education, regardless of their ZIP code.
What will be your first action as an elected official in 2019?
I believe a school board member’s main responsibility is to advocate for the students and employees they serve. My first action as an elected official in 2019 will be to continue advocating for increased funding for our schools. Phoenix Union has overcrowded schools and classrooms because we have limited funding to adequately serve all of our students and employees. I signed the #InvestInEDPledge and ask that all school board candidates do the same.
The uncertain future of the Supreme Court highlights the importance of protecting our rights at the state and local level. How can school boards stem the tide of attacks on inclusive comprehensive sex education and access to medically accurate family planning information?
School board members have a duty of advocating for the best interest of the students they serve. It is in the best interest of students for them to have access to comprehensive sex education. The more we can educate students about the importance of healthy relationships, the better prepared they will be when engaging in relationships. At the local level, school boards can introduce and implement comprehensive sex education in their schools.
What can school board members do not just to safeguard LGBTQ students and their rights in Arizona, but to move them forward?
School board members can institute policies that focus on diversity and inclusion of all students. Having policies that protect LGBTQ students are critical in all schools but creating a culture of inclusion and one that celebrates diversity is equally important. I believe the culture and climate of a school district is how LGBTQ students will move forward and thrive, when they feel supported, valued, and respected in the schools they attend.
School resource officers — or SROs — have become popular among those who care about student safety and learning without school “discipline” strategies that help create a pipeline to prison. As a current member of the PUHSD Governing Board, what is your understanding and expectations of SROs in the PUHS District?
The topic of SROs is top of mind at Phoenix Union. There are varying opinions on whether SROs should be on school campuses. Because of concerns around the school-to-prison pipeline, some believe that no law enforcement officials should be present at schools. Additionally, because of concerns around campus safety, as it relates to active school shooters and violent threats, others believe that SROs are critical in maintaining the security of our schools. My expectation as a board member is that SROs are present to ensure our students and employees are safe from security threats. I do not believe SROs should be seen as intimidating or threatening personnel on campus. I expect that SROs work to build relationships with our school communities so that they are seen as a true resource to our students and their families. Finally, I expect SROs to work closely with our security teams should notification to law enforcement be triggered during an incident. The SRO would fulfill the statutory requirement to notify police of the incident.
What other issues are you fighting for?
Two years ago, I pushed the district to publicly disclose and evaluate our student discipline data. Much to our dismay, Phoenix Union was epitomizing national statistics by disproportionately disciplining male students of color. The publication of this data created space for us to take action to improve our internal policies and practices as it relates to student discipline. District-wide trainings on restorative justice practices and a focused effort on interventions have been implemented since then. We still have a lot of work to do moving forward, but have seen success in pilot schools that have implemented a full restorative justice model just last school year. I’ll continue to fight for the fair and equitable treatment of all students to ensure that we close the gap on our student discipline data.
What gives you hope for the future of Arizona?
Our students give me hope. They are brilliant, beautifully diverse, and focused on making their communities and the world a better place. I cannot wait to see them in leadership roles; we will be living in a much more welcoming state that strives to ensure all students succeed.