The Storm Lake School Board took the final vote this week regarding changes in the district's nondiscrimination and multicultural education policy. The policy passed without the addition of the phrase "sexual orientation."
The issue has created much debate throughout the Storm Lake community, with both sides of the issue speaking out at school board meetings in the past three months.
With the third and final reading this week, the policy book is shut without the change. However, the lone board member who has voted in favor of the change said adding the phrase is somewhat "irrelevant."
"The question now is how all of us can become more sensitized to violence and threats of violence that exist in our community and all over," said board member Peter Steinfeld.
He suggested the district needs to examine staff development and school-based support groups for gay and lesbian issues. "Staff development is important if we want to say, 'We don't tolerate discrimination, period,'" he said.
Several people in attendance this week voiced their support to the school board for passing the policy without changes.
Bill Chindlund said he compliments the board on its past action. "I have not talked to anybody who is not in favor of what you have done," he said. "Keep doing what you're doing, we're proud of you."
He also said the school board maintains the decision making power, referring to a petition submitted by high school students in favor of the policy change.
"In my day high school kids didn't run the school, it was parents and the school board," Chindlund said.
Anita Daniels said there was no need to change the policy and said discrimination in any form should not occur.
"I don't think anybody in this room wants to see any faculty or student harassed for any reason," she said. "It's not just one group of adolescents that get harassed, ridiculed or made fun of."
Jim Treat also spoke against the policy change, adding that students, staff and faculty deserve a "clean, safe and orderly environment."
"It's my observation and experience that the Storm Lake Board of Education has provided that positive environment in which students and faculty can function," he said.
A former educator in the Storm Lake district, Treat said the discrimination policy continues to work.
"The policy that existed on the books at that time exists on the books today," he said. "I think it is adequate to deal with those incidents."
He also said no administrators in the school district would allow discrimination based on sexual orientation to go unpunished.
The debate throughout the past three months has at times been over the morality of homosexuality. Steinfeld said this week he didn't think the issue is "a referendum on gay rights." Instead, he said it is a matter of safety, saying that gay discrimination is something that happens "quietly."
"That's why it's heinous, because it falls between the cracks and outside the vision of what we normally see," he said. "The evidence seems to suggest gay and lesbian students are facing issues in our schools that are not being reported."
While Steinfeld has been the lone board member voting in favor of the policy addition, he said he has been impressed with people's opposition to discrimination even if they were not in favor of adding "sexual orientation" to the policy.
"I commend the board and people here who say we will not tolerate discrimination, period," he said.
In other news:
* The Storm Lake School Board approved its 2002-2003 budget at Wednesday's school board meeting.
The approximately $4.9 million budget has a levy rate of $16.37 per $1,000 of valuation.
Because of 1 percent allowable growth set by the state and an increase in enrollment, the Storm Lake district saw its cost per pupil increase by $45. Taxes increased by 55 cents, but would have only increased 5 cents if the legislature approved a 4 percent allowable growth as promised last year.
"The shift came from the state to the local property taxpayer and that is the fact," Superintendent Bill Kruse said.
* A task force studying the need for character education in Storm Lake plans to spread the message while organizing a community-wide presentation in the fall.
Pat Cowan, Community Education director, said the Oct. 25 meeting seems far off, but noted it will work for teachers and school staff currently busy with the end of the school year.
The October community meeting will have presenters from Drake University, which is home to the Character Counts program, as well as representatives from other communities that have implemented character education, such as Fort Dodge.
Between now and next fall, the task force will meet with local civic groups and service organizations on the project.