Wednesday, August 08, 2001

Policy aims to restrict intimidation

CPS may bar slurs of sex orientation

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For the first time, students in Cincinnati Public Schools could be disciplined in the coming school year for intimidating others based on sexual orientation.

        A draft code of conduct policy containing that language is scheduled to go before the board of education Monday for approval.

        But a roadblock looms. If approved as written, a Cincinnati-based constitutional attorney for the American Family Association of Ohio says he will challenge it.

        A CPS committee made up of teachers, a student, administrators, community members and parents met twice in July for a total of five to six hours to update the district's code of conduct policy, said district counsel John Concannon.

        Disciplining students for intimidation based on sexual orientation has been discussed in past years, but the committee decided this year to include it in the code of conduct, said district spokeswoman Jan Leslie. She knew of no increase in incidents where kids intimidated other based on sexual orientation.

        “It's very important to us in the district that no child be intimidated at school based on race, gender or any accusation of sexual orientation,” she said.

        The draft policy as written for students in kindergarten to 8th grade states: “Students must not use words, statements (written or verbal) or actions that intimidate or express inflicting harm or loss toward students, district staff, visitors, district vehicles or property. This includes any negative comments or statements about a person's race, nationality, religion or sexual orientation.”

        Wording is slightly different for the draft 9th-12th grade policy with “derogatory” substituted for “negative.” Students who violate the policy face mandatory suspension and possible expulsion.

        “I'm very troubled by the proposed addition of the word sexual orientation to the disciplinary rules,” said David Langdon, attorney for the American Family Association of Ohio, a nonprofit group advocating traditional values. “I believe the language as proposed is unconstitutional and a violation of free speech and freedom of religion. If this proposal is passed as drafted, we will challenge it in the courts.”

        Mr. Langdon said the organization he represents does not condone students or anyone using intimidating statements based on sexual orientation. However, he said the district's draft policy could be used to punish students who, for example, express in class that they are religiously opposed to homosexuality.

        Andy Ruffner, co-chairman of the Cincinnati Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, praised the draft language in the district's code of conduct.

        “There's a growing movement within the public and private sector to move ahead with this even though the government won't grant these rights,” he said. “This will eventually create a safer school environment.”

        He said harassment based on sexual orientation can be intimidating, causing students to falter in their schoolwork or be afraid to attend school.

        A survey, Hostile Hallways, commissioned by the American Association of University Women's Educational Foundation and conducted last year by Harris Interactive, found 19 percent of boys and 13 percent of girls said someone has called them gay or lesbian. Harris interviewed 2,064 students in grades 8-11.


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