Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Sexual intimidation policy approved




By Emily Biuso
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Students of Cincinnati Public Schools can now bespecifically suspended or expelled for intimidating others because of sexual orientation or disability, and administrators have already received training on how to enforce the new policy.

        The board of education's 6-1 approval of the revamped student discipline policy adding those two provisions Monday night prompted a ovation from the audience, but discussion over the policy has not ended.

        A gay and lesbian rights group says that everyone in the school community needs to learn about the policy, and is offering to develop a plan with CPS and other advocacy groups to educate students, teachers, administrators and counselors.

        Andy Ruffner, co-chair of the Cincinnati chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said the policy will affect the entire school community.

        “I'm concerned that there's educational efforts put into place as well,” he said.

        CPS general counsel John Concannon said that principals and assistant principals were trained to enforce the new policy during in-service sessions two weeks ago. The next step is developing an administrative procedure to ensure that the board policy is implemented, said Rosa Blackwell, deputy superintendent .

        Ms. Blackwell, who is in charge of developing the procedure, will convene a committee that “will have a representative body,” she said. She said it had not been decided if the committee will include the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and the other groups that have offered to participate.

        Mindy Sandfort, a spokeswoman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said it is also

        important to teach educators how to recognize, prevent and discipline harassment based on sexual identity, which is not explicitly mentioned in the new policy.

        “Teachers need to understand the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation and how to deal with the harassment that comes with both situations,” she said.

        Sexual orientation involves who a person is attracted to, while gender identity is what someone feels his gender to be.

        School board member Harriet Russellproposed an amendment to include gender identity in the language of the new policy, but agreed to send the issue back to a committee before it could be voted on by the board.

        Mr. Concannon said that he believes gender identity is covered under the current policy.

        First Amendment rights are also covered, he said.

        The policy applies to serious incidents of harassment, intim idation or threatening, he said. It does not apply to incidents that involve free speech.

        If a student says, “I'm opposed to homosexuality because God says homosexuality is a sin,” it is not a violation of the policy, Mr. Concannon said.

        Officials reworded their proposed changes to the policy last week after a Cincinnati-based constitutional attorney said he would challenge the policy because it was vague.

       



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