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State school board drops gays from anti-bullying rules
Columbus--The Ohio Board of Education on July 10 once again scuttled efforts to add sexual orientation to a draft anti-bullying policy being sent to local school districts.
On an 11-8 vote, the board rejected a passage that referred to “taunts based on” traits including sexual orientation.
“Verbal taunts, name-calling and put-downs, including taunts based on ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation or other protected and/or individual characteristics” was removed from the section on “conduct that could constitute prohibited behaviors.”
Board members opposed to the wording claimed that it was unnecessary and repetitious. Others on the board, however, believe that is a convenient excuse.
“Let’s say what this is,” said Robin C. Hovis of Millersburg, about 15 miles south of Wooster, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “The issue is inclusion of homosexuality.”
Cincinnati’s G.R. Schloemer wanted the language “to ensure that administrators dealt with issues and didn’t brush any aside based on personal biases or beliefs.”
John R. Bender of the western Cleveland suburb of Avon pointed out that Gov. Ted Strickland had instituted protections for gay and lesbian state employees, saying, “Let’s make sure students have the same protections.”
The board then approved the draft policy on a 17-2 vote.
A law passed late last year requires school districts to have anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies in place, and charged the Ohio Department of Education with creating a draft policy that local school districts could use as a template.
In the legislature, there was a great deal of wrangling over whether the bill itself would include enumerated categories such as sexual orientation. Despite a dearth of testimony against adding the list, and a plethora of citizens speaking in favor of the idea, lawmakers left the groups out of the measure.
Angie Wellman, executive director of Kaleidoscope Youth Center in Columbus, was livid with the state school board’s vote.
“I am outraged at the fact that only eight of 11 votes supported the idea of ‘requirement’ that schools protect all youth, and be vocal about saying so,” she said. “I hear this as a statement to illustrate the idea that there are, or should be, exceptions to providing all youth a safe place to learn and grow. I hear these statements as a direct illustration of exactly how some youth will not be protected, and why inclusive language surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity was imperative.”
She lamented, “What a message to our kids. What a disappointment. How long are political agendas going to get in the way of the emotional and physical safety of our young people?”
“It was the responsibility of the State Board of Education to set an example of best practice,” Wellman continued. “It is all of our responsibilities to ensure that all young people are provided a safe place to learn and grow. By explicitly choosing to delete LGBT-inclusive language, the State Board of Education has dropped the ball.”
“They have left our most fragile populations vulnerable,” she concluded.
Lynne Bowman, executive director of Equality Ohio, took a more positive outlook on the situation.
“We are pleased that the Department of Education included enumeration in the language they put forward to the Board of Education,” she said. “We are disappointed in the Board of Education’s decision to strip the language out of the model policy. We’re concerned about their reason that it would be redundant to leave it in. It points to the need of some serious education for the Board of Education.”
Despite the at least temporary finality of the Board of Education’s actions, Equality Ohio and other organizations will move their efforts to the local level to add protections for LGBT students.
“We have a meeting with Dr. Kisch at the Department of Education in late August to talk about the implementation of the local policies, and we’re working on a statewide conference in late October for administrators on how to write their local policies,” Bowman said. “It’s being headed up by the folks in Toledo who have done such a great job in their local efforts.”
She also said that they would continue their efforts in an ever-changing legislature to add the language to state law, perhaps doing in a couple of years what advocates for LGBT youth attempted last year.