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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Schools leader unswayed on 'sexual orientation' policy

Thursday, February 28, 2002

In the week following a school board vote against amending its nondiscrimination and multicultural education policies to include "sexual orientation," the lone board member to favor the change is standing firm.

Board member Peter Steinfeld said neither opposition voiced by community members nor the 4-1 board vote against the policy change have reversed his position on the matter.

"I favor the inclusion of 'sexual orientation' in our nondiscrimination policy because it affirms the commitment of the Storm Lake School District to protect the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered persons," Steinfeld said this week.

He said he feels it is up to local governmental bodies, such as the school board, to state their positions because federal and state law has not created a protected status based on sexual orientation.

"Federal and state policies allow for just such local control," he said.

Such a policy would provide support for a group of people who have been a "target," he argued.

"Persons with alternative lifestyles have been targets of violence and threats of violence - Matthew Shepard is but one example," Steinfeld said. "I believe it is our responsibility to create a safe environment for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community - in our schools and in our community."

Steinfeld said he strongly supports federal and state legislation against hate crimes, which does include strict sanctions and punishments for violence against gays/lesbians.

The suggested change was to add sexual orientation as one of the protected classes in the school district's nondiscrimination and multicultural policy, which are regularly reviewed by the school board.

Superintendent Bill Kruse said there have been no incidents to provoke the addition of sexual orientation as a protected class, but that it was brought up as a "possibility" during regular policies review.

Steinfeld feels a change to the policy would support students and teachers who may be gay or lesbian. He pointed out the policy regarding reducing stereotyping and eliminating bias in curriculum and teaching strategies.

"I also believe that it is the responsibility or our public schools to educate our students in ways that reduce stereotyping, biases and prejudice against the gay community," Steinfeld said. "We need to take a proactive approach that teaches respect and tolerance in the context of diversity and pluralism."

At the school board's Feb. 17 meeting, a large number of community members gathered. All that spoke were against the change, citing liability issues, current laws that already provide protection and some who said homosexuality is against the moral code.

Steinfeld said the district' policy already states curriculum "should foster respect and appreciation for cultural diversity... and an awareness of the rights, duties and responsibilities of each individual as a member of a pluralistic society."

"I also believe that our teachers should be free from worry that they might be fired if it is learned that they are gay or lesbian," he said.

Steinfeld said including the phrase in the nondiscrimination policy creates an "environment of openness"

"Students, faculty, and staff will feel safer because they know that their safety will be assured," he said.

Steinfeld said he continues to feel strongly about the issue since the last board meeting.

"The public schools should act in ways to educate our students, and to provide a safe learning environment, free from intimidation and threats of violence," he said.

"I would argue that the responsible thing for the Storm Lake School Board to do is to add a sexual orientation clause to our nondiscrimination policy," he added. "I feel more strongly than ever about this."

The addition would have had "no impact" on curriculum, Superintendent Kruse said. "It would not change what we're doing in health classes or anywhere else," he said. "Health classes are required to teach about health issues. We do not promote alternative lifestyles.

"The addition was to include nondiscrimination against students who don't have the common lifestyle that is acceptable," Kruse said.

Even without the policy change, Kruse said the district would not accept discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The school board will review the policy two more times before making a final vote.

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