Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Vote delayed on gay slurs in school

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Parents and students in Cincinnati Public Schools must wait to learn if students will receive mandatory suspensions this school year for making derogatory comments about another person's sexual orientation.

        The board of education did not vote Monday on a draft student discipline policy that adds that language.

        “The change needs to be written in such a way that all students are protected from harassment while they do not lose their First Amendment rights,” said board member Harriet Russell.

        More than 30 members of Cincinnati's gay and lesbian community turned out for the board meeting to support the draft policy. A couple of people in the audience spoke out against it.

        Jan Smith, a lesbian and retired Sands Montessori school teacher, told the board she often heard derogatory comments about others' sexual orientation from her first-, second- and third-grade students.

        “When it is written down in black and white that we won't tolerate slurs based on sexual orientation, and when there are consequences for such language, then we can begin re-educating everyone in the schools — and only then that language will stop,” she said.

        As written for students in kindergarten to eighth grade, with slight changes for grades 9-12, the draft policy 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.”

        Students who violate the policy face mandatory suspension and possible expulsion.


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