When a law exists to protect civil rights, violation of that law will be met with public anger, even if your legal staff has advised that the district is within their own rights to flout the law. Which begs the question - even if the district can find some loophole around following the law, can you get away with it? Should you try? Is violating civil rights the right path for an education entity to take?
About five weeks ago, I sent you a letter in which I explained a situation I found myself in on September 5th, when for the first time after many years of nursing my children in public, I was confronted by someone who thought it was inappropriate to do so. Unfortunately, this was not some yahoo at a restaurant, but the principal of my sons' school. Knowing that I have a legal right to breastfeed my baby in any place where I am authorized to be, I contacted the superintendent's office and inquired as to whether there is a policy regarding breastfeeding parents on school campuses. Discovering that there was not one which upheld the law, I wrote to you - to twenty-three of you, each person in the superintendent's office, in legal services, and on the school board - urging you to adopt a written policy reflecting the state law that affords nursing mothers the right to breastfeed their children in public.
I wrote to twenty-three people because I was uncertain who all might be in a position to effect a change, and who might be disposed to do so. Almost two dozen people, paid by my community's tax dollars, some elected by my community's votes. I only hoped for a speedy resolution, but I expected a number of responses. There was just one return of my communication, with brief assurances that the issue was being addressed and in fact a draft was already going through the chain-of-command for approval. The "issue," to me, was that the district lacked a written policy which conforms to the law, not simply that the district lacked a written policy. Encouraged, I waited patiently for two weeks before asking for an update. Another short reply suggested that I might receive the policy... the following week. So a week later I made contact... (she) replied that she should be able to share towards the end of that week. I followed up that Friday, but was informed that the proposal was still being reviewed by AISD staff and would probably not be ready for distribution until the end of the next week. Finally, after five weeks of patiently going through proper channels, the new policy arrived in my inbox.
Attached to the end of an eight-page policy detailing how visitors to school campuses are to be managed, the provision in which I "expressed interest" is virtually word-for-word the same as was described to me as the long-standing practice that violates my rights and the law.
In five weeks, I do not know what has occurred amongst those involved in this decision; if nursing mothers have a single ally among you, if the school board was involved in the decision to ignore the law. I don't know if it came up in a meeting, or a casual conversation was had among a handful of people, or if just a couple of people emailed each other quickly about it. I know nothing of the process that went into the decision to maintain the discriminatory practice, because I have not received any communication from anyone that offered me any respect. The emails I received were polite, yes, but never was there any acknowledgement of my concerns as valid, and no explanation of how the lawyers who work for the district justify a provision that denies women a civil right protected by state law.
Instead of respect, I was largely ignored, and allowed to believe for five weeks that I may have made a difference for the better. When in fact, it is now likely to be perceived by principals as a requirement to move nursing mothers to a private room, rather than an option. So a bad practice is now a more rigid and thereby, worse, written policy.
Even without the courtesy of having been told as much, I understand that the district must feel a need to avoid the probability that someone, influenced by this country's over-sexualization of breasts, will complain if a mother is breastfeeding her baby at a school. I am deeply disappointed that rather than coming down on the side of the nursing mother and child, who represent a need and a right, AISD has chosen to side with the small-minded, who represent only a want. You could easily have made the right choice and justified it with the fact that to do so is in accordance with the law. What I think you failed to anticipate in your decision is that the violation of a law and of civil rights will not sit right with many people.
Perhaps since breastfeeding rates are so dismally low in our country as a baby ages (in part due to situations such as you have created), there was a hope that putting me off for five weeks would nullify the issue for me. I want to assure you that I am in this for the long haul, and I have found a lot of support in my community. I know many people are appalled that the district is disregarding state law and thereby demeaning me and other nursing mothers. I hope that as you hear from them, you will give them more respect than I have been shown, and that the provision will be rewritten to conform to the law and show respect, as well, to nursing mothers.
Monday, November 12, 2012
My Response to the Policy
After a weekend to cool off - which I clearly didn't really manage to do - I sent the following to everyone I'd contacted five weeks earlier. In the letter I mistakenly say that it had only one reply. In looking through my emails to write this blog I realized there was one I'd forgotten, letting me know it had been received and was being forwarded to the appropriate staff member, which I appreciated. So two people replied to my initial letter.