Tuesday, August 21, 2001

CPS rewords harassment policy to stave off suits

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Officials in Cincinnati Public Schools say they have found a constitutional way to allow administrators to discipline students who intimidate others based on sexual orientation.

        A reworded draft student discipline policy will not violate students' protected freedom of speech but will allow administrators to punish students when they harass others about sexual orientation, race, religious belief, gender, nationality or disability, said CPS general counsel John Concannon.

        The policy will go to the seven-member board of education Monday for a vote.

        “The teachers said they want to make sure when students walk down the hall and one says "That shirt is so gay,' that it doesn't raise to the level of intimidation,” Mr. Concannon said.

        A Cincinnati-based constitutional attorney last week said he would challenge the policy because it was vague.

        David Langdon, attorney for the American Family Association of Ohio, a nonprofit group advocating traditional values, said the policy was worded so that students could be suspended simply for stating they are religiously opposed to homosexuality.

        Mr. Concannon said that won't happen under the new draft policy. The draft now


        “A student must not use words (written or verbal), gestures, photographs, drawings, or any other form of communication to intimidate, harass, or threaten harm to another based upon race, gender, religious belief, nationality, disability, or sexual orientation. This does not prohibit discussion of these issues as may be appropriate in the classroom or other school settings.”

        If the policy is passed Monday, students who violate it will receive mandatory suspension or possible expulsion.

        Mr. Langdon said he will wait to see how the policy is enforced before moving ahead with legal action.

        “The school board definitely is walking a tightrope with regard to the First Amendment,” he said.

        Mr. Langdon said the policy leaves room for interpretation on what is appropriate for classroom discussion.

        Scott Greenwood, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the policy is constitutional as now written.

        “Schools clearly have the power to prohibit students harassing, intimidating or threatening other students for any reason,” he said.

        Vanessa Alim of North Avondale, who has one child in Cincinnati Public Schools, raised concerns about the draft policy during a board committee meeting Monday.

        “There shouldn't be a certain group of people who can say we want this on the books, we don't want this on the books,” she said. “It feels like to the community that there are special privileges that are given.”


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