School Board addressing students' policy
District 56 Board delays action related to “sexual orientation”
Rather than list all the basis for discrimination they do not allow, members of the District 56 Board of Trustees are going to see if they can have a policy that says, basically, “We do not discriminate against anyone.”
That way, they could get around having to list the “sexual orientation” of students as a basis for non-discrimination.
District 56 right now does not list sexual orientation, along with race, gender, religion and handicap, as a ground for non-discrimination. The state says it does not have to protect students based on their sexual orientation.
Their lawyer is advising following the state’s lead and have a listing of only those grounds for anti-discrimination listed by state law. The issue is coming up now because the board is trying to approve a major update in the massive Policy J – the district policy that deals with students.
The board previously split on a motion to have sexual orientation listed in its non-discrimination policy as it relates to students, with the majority approving the motion. On Monday, the board backed away from that approval, delaying action on making the policy permanent.
Board member Tammy Stewart said including sexual orientation would provide a loophole whereby a male student could insist on changing clothes in a female locker room.
Board vice-chair Dr. Patsy Sadler said not including sexual orientation would be the same as not protecting students based on their race and religion. “If we want to protect all students,” Sadler said, “we need to say (no discrimination against) the demographic that suffers from discrimination.”
“Why can’t we say, ‘we don’t discriminate against any student.’ If you list 99 (grounds for discrimination), there will be a 100th,” board member Kim Williams-Carter said.
No one at Monday’s meeting could say if the district, lawfully, could make such a blanket statement, and still comply with federal and state laws. Placing second reading on Section J changes on hold delays updating as set of policies that have not been updated since 1998.
As the policy currently exists, the district is authorized to monitor students’ activity on MySpace.
The board does not have to specifically say District 56 will not discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation. But Sadler is insistent that the phrase be included in all district anti-discrimination phrases. The next set of policies to come before the board governs teachers, and the same “no discrimination based on sexual orientation” discussion will come up during consideration of these policies.
Without specific language that says students cannot be discriminated against for being gay, lesbian, transgender or questioning, “you are saying we are going to allow discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Sadler said, “so we don’t have to run into hard problems.”
She said it’s the same issue school board ran into when segregation ended in the 1970s.
Stewart said she and Sadler could “agree to disagree.”
“I don’t want to push ourselves in a corner,” Stewart said. “I guess it’s my sports background. I’m already reading about states where boys are running in female competitions.”
Sadler said a young man who insists on being allowed to change clothes in a female locker room, based on gender identification, would have to have an accommodation. She said it’s same with a Muslim student who must pray during the day in a way specified by that religion – an accommodation is made, rather than have the whole school schedule disrupted.
The board decided not to vote on Section J at this time. As it stands now, just one part of the student policy – allowing school choice - is being stricken by board action. All discipline policies for students remain in place, unchanged, while Section J remains under consideration.