THORNTON, Colo. — Several parents are outraged after a drag queen spoke to their children during Rocky Top Middle School’s career day. Now the principal is apologizing for not notifying parents ahead of time.
A police officer, an architect and a drag queen — a broad range of jobs on career day, but parents say one of them has no business inside a school.
“I was pretty appalled. I was pretty surprised. It was a shock because no one was notified,” parent Jen Payer said.
Ms. Jessica is a gay man who was invited by one of her fans, a Rocky Top student, to come to career day. All of the guests talked about their job and its connection to literacy.
“This person is an adult entertainer and is talking to 12-year-old students about something that’s adult nature,” parent Heather Rogers said.
Rocky Top principal Chelsea Behanna said the event reflected the diversity of the community.
In a letter sent to parents on Monday, she said “Jessica read a chapter from ‘Horrible Harry’ and she used the text to illustrate the damage bullies can do, the need to always put kindness and acceptance at the forefront, and the shortsightedness of judging a book by its cover.”
Ms. Jessica says she used career day to show kids it’s OK to be different.
“I had a couple kids that were like, ‘I’m gay in school and I get bullied every week and I don’t know what to do and just talking to you helped me realize that I can still be me and still be happy,’” Jessica said.
“I got messages being like thank you so much for coming to my class. I was having a really horrible week and you made my day.”
But parents said Jessica was not age appropriate. They said they should have been notified so they could make the decision to have their child attend the career day or not.
“I take responsibility for not notifying families ahead of time and apologize for any stress this has caused you and your child,” Behanna said.
“Moving forward, a prominent step in planning for next year will be to share the guest list for all families prior to the event.
“Should you feel like any of the sessions are not appropriate for your child, you’ll be welcome to notify us and we’ll make alternate arrangements for your child during that time.”
Meanwhile, Jessica says the negative feedback from some parents won’t stop her from speaking to kids, no matter the age.
“I want to go to more elementary schools because of this experience at Rocky Top. I’ve already reached out to a couple people about how to develop a Ted Talk,” Jessica said.
Jessica uses the stage name “Jessica L’Whor.” She said she introduced herself as Ms. Jessica during career day because she did not think her last name was appropriate for a school setting.
Behanna sent a letter to parents after the event:
Last Friday, Rocky Top hosted our 2nd Annual Rocky Top READS! event, and it was a great success because of so many people! We put out a call to our families and community members and received an overwhelming response. As a result, we welcomed more than 100 guest readers throughout the day on Friday!
Our volunteer guest readers spent 20 minutes in different classrooms talking about their career and its connection to literacy, reading to the students and then answering questions. In addition to highlighting the connection between literacy and a successful career, this event reflected the diversity of our community. We had a broad range of careers represented— emergency responders, elected officials, clergy, research assistants, tradespeople, journalists, professional athletes and even a drag queen!
All families in our Grizzly community are receiving this letter because a handful of people have expressed concern over the presence of a drag queen in our middle school. Jessica, the drag queen, began her guest session with an explanation of her career–as did all other guests. She explained that she is a performer who, though a man, portrays a woman for her performances. She detailed her background in the performing arts throughout middle and high school, talked about her dream of being a teacher, then explained how she earned a business degree from Colorado State University. Jessica then read a great chapter from Horrible Harry in Room 2B by Suzy Kline. She used the text to illustrate the damage bullies can do, the need to always put kindness and acceptance at the forefront, and the shortsightedness of judging a book by its cover. Students were completely engaged and asked lots of great questions.
I take responsibility for not notifying families ahead of time and apologize for any stress this has caused you and your child. This year we used the same process as last year, sharing the schedule of speakers with staff so they could prepare students and plan for questions, but realize we cannot make it the students’ responsibility to share that information at home. Moving forward, a prominent step in planning for next year will be to share the guest list for all families prior to the event. Should you feel like any of the sessions are not appropriate for your child, you’ll be welcome to notify us and we’ll make alternate arrangements for your child during that time.
We’re thankful for the many volunteers who made this year’s Rocky Top READS! event a success. The focus of the event was a celebration of literacy and was reflected in the incredibly positive experiences of staff, students and guests throughout the day.