School district considers adding to its anti-discrimination policies

Posted: Friday, May 07, 2004

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is unlikely to add sexual orientation to a list of characteristics protected under anti-discrimination and harassment policies, the board implied in a work session Monday. However, additional wording to cover a range of traits may be added.

The board took up the discussion after a member of Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) addressed the board in February.

David Brown noted that the KPBSD is the largest Alaska school district to omit the term "sexual orientation" from its student and employee anti-discrimination policies.

The district's policy committee met to discuss the issue but ultimately decided to pass it on to the board.

"It's a controversial topic," said Assistant Superintendent Sam Stewart. "The committee determined it is a topic that the entire board probably should discuss."

In reality, the issue got far less discussion than the "controversial" label might suggest.

Board member Sammy Crawford, who met with PFLAG members, outlined a number of concerns the group noted. She said the group indicated worry over the trend of higher suicide rates for homosexual youth and said specific language in policy would give teachers and administrators more ground in discouraging derogatory slang such as "That's so gay" in reference to something considered stupid.

Upon questions from board members, administrators said that teasing dealing with sexual orientation, as well as inappropriate name-calling are dealt with under current policy.

Board members, however, looked at a number of current policies, which list a number of specifically protected characteristics, and said the policies may be getting too specific.

For example, due to state and federal law, the district's nondiscrimination employment policy said applicants cannot be discriminated "on the basis of sex, race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, age over 40, marital status, physical or mental disability, Vietnam era veteran status or good faith reporting to the board on a matter of public concern."

"In looking at what's listed ... to me, it gives pretty good evidence why not to list everything," said board member Margaret Gilman. "It's getting down to the level were it gets ridiculous."

Members of the public presented varying positions on the policies during the general board meeting Monday night in Seward.

Community member Marsha Beecham said she supports inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected trait.

"It's the right thing to do," she said.

Math teacher Naomi Fisher said she was in Fairbanks when that community's school board was discussing the same issue two years ago.

"I can't believe we're still deciding these things," she said. "I have heard the taunts, it is happening. It is the inherent right and dignity of all students to be who they are."

Seward High junior Kristen Clark, however, said she doesn't think the language is called for.

"Kids get made fun of for everything. What's the big deal?" she said. "Just because some kids are sexually unsure, they shouldn't get special treatment."

Rather than debating the specifics themselves, board members turned to guest Donna Foxley who works with the U.S. Department of Education. She said Washington state has dealt with the issue by simply adding one line to nondiscrimination policies: People cannot be discriminated on the list of traits that must be included by federal and state mandates " ... or any other real or perceived difference."

District administration was asked to bring a formal proposal back to the board for action in June.

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