posted on 07/26/2002 6:33:56 AM PDT
School board delays discrimination vote
By ANDREI BLAKELY
Journal staff writer
Fairfax County School Board Chairman Stuart D. Gibson, Hunter Mill District, Thursday night postponed the board's vote to include sexual orientation in the schools' nondiscrimination policy until the board receives legal advice from the state.
The announcement was made as more than 350 onlookers packed the auditorium at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church.
The postponement was prompted by uncertainty about the board's authority under state law to change its policy without legislation from the General Assembly. Such a change could make the board vulnerable to lawsuits.
The change would add sexual orientation as a protected characteristic against discrimination for students and employees along with race, gender and religion.
School Board member Rita S. Thompson, at large, requested the board seek legal advice from the state before making the change. Arlington, Alexandria and the county Board of Supervisors have voted to include sexual orientatioin in their nondiscrimination policies.
``It was my understanding that the attorney general informed Arlington and the county Board of Supervisors that they needed legislation from the General Assembly to enact the decision," Thompson said. ``My position is we need to enforce the law that is already in the books. Adding language doesn't do anything."
The board will next send a letter to Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr., R-McLean, asking him to request opinion about the policy change from Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore.
Gibson said before the meeting that he would act in accordance with the state law after advice was received from the state.
``I'm really disappointed," said Manny Solon, a proponent of the change. ``They could take action and if someone wants to take them to court and say they couldn't [change the language], fine, let them take them to court."
In the weeks leading up to Thursday's meeting, board members received hundreds of e-mails from opponents and supporters of the change.
Supporters argued they wanted to make the schools safer for all residents, while opponents objected to a policy they said would advocate homosexuality in schools.
School Board member Robert E. Frye, at large, proposed the vote.
``I wanted to note that this proposal to add sexual orientation is a very basic one," Frye said. ``It is a golden rule. Do unto others as you would want [done to you]."
In May 2001, the School Board added sexual orientation to the harassment policy in the student handbook. The rule prohibits students from harassing other students because of their sexual orientation.
The rule in May passed by a 9-3 vote. School Board members who voted against the change said they believed students already were protected against all harassment or bullying.
Last year's vote did not receive as much attention from community members opposed to the inclusion of sexual orientation.
``I think that both sides have misapprehended what the original intent [of the policy change] was," Gibson said before the meeting.
Officials from the Arlington and Alexandria school jurisdictions said they have not experienced any controversy as a result of changing their policies.
Arlington Public Schools added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy for employees in 1995, said Arlington County School Board member Mary Hynes. The county added the language to its nondiscrimination policy for students in 2000, she said.
``It wasn't an issue here and I think it's based on the fact that we want kids to do well," Hynes said.
Alexandria City Public Schools added sexual orientation to its sexual harassment policy June 20. The language was added to its equal education opportunity policy in October 2000.
posted on 07/26/2002 6:51:46 AM PDT
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