HACKENSACK, NJ – The Bergen County Arts & Science Charter School (BASCS), where controversy stirred last month after an LGBTQ-themed mural was covered, will become one of the first in the state to pilot an inclusive curriculum.

In May, the school, which rents space from Holy Trinity Church in Hackensack, was forced to paint over the student-created mural featuring a rainbow heart with male symbols on a pillar in a common area also used by parishioners.

After the heart was repainted all red, the school and church was criticized by Garden State Equality, a statewide organization that advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, as well as other groups.

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Last week, a representative from Garden State Equality met with students, teachers and administrators to talk about what happened. 

The discussion led to the school making a commitment to launch the new curriculum in September, as well as to invite the Archdiocese of Newark and Holy Trinity to join them at their next meeting in the fall. 

“Garden State Equality’s top priority is ensuring that LGBTQ students feel safe, affirmed, and supported, and to the school’s credit, the administration unequivocally embraced the positive and constructive solutions proposed by students and educators during our dialogue,” said Ashley Chiappano, Safe Schools & Community Education Manager for Garden State Equality. 

She added: “We are proud to partner with Bergen Arts & Science Charter School to roll out our LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum test-pilot program later this year to ensure the political, social, and economic contributions of LGBTQ people are represented in classrooms.”

About a dozen districts will participate in the pilot, led by Garden State Equality, which will work with teachers to introduce them to the curriculum that all public schools will be required to implement in the 2020-21 school year.

Nihat Guvercin, chief executive officer of iLearn Schools, which operates BASCS, said, the school “is happy to participate in the test-pilot program and to be a leader in developing LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum” and “committed to affirming LGBTQ student voices and successfully implementing LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum.”

He added: “For years, BASCS has successfully operated its school in a church building, complying with the requirements of its lease while also respecting the rights of its students. BASCS and the entire iLearn Schools network have proactively built school environments that uplift and give voice to diversity. The curriculum test-pilot will be an opportunity for us to become a leader in this work, to create a model for other public schools. We’re proud to participate with Garden State Equality to do that.”

Brenna, a 16-year-old junior who painted the mural, said, “I am so happy real initiatives will be taking place at Bergen Arts & Science Charter School to affirm LGBTQ students, and I will be doing everything in my power to work with my peers, educators, and the administration to ensure our goals are implemented with a fair outcome.”

“There is still so much work to do on behalf of LGBTQ youth and students, and by building a safe and inclusive environment at our school, I am optimistic that no other student will ever have to go through a similar experience again,” the teen also said.

Garden State Equality will be partnering with Make It Better For Youth to develop a curriculum for the schools to pilot. The project is being funded through a $185,000 grant from Braitmayer Foundation and PSEG Foundation.

The LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum Law, which passed last year and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in January, requires middle and high schools to teach students about political, economic and social contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Though the state Department of Education will issue broad guidelines prior to the law’s implementation, local school boards are ultimately in charge of developing and rolling out the curriculum. 

After the pilot program, Garden State Equality’s curriculum will be offered to local school boards and districts at no cost and  “curriculum coaches” will be available to schools as well.