Trustee Lew Blackburn says he will offer a substitute with specific protections for LGBT students, but district spokesman says measure may not be necessary
John Wright | Online Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Dallas Independent School District trustee Lew Blackburn said this week he plans to introduce a bullying policy that provides specific protections for LGBT students.
However, a DISD spokesman said he’s unsure whether a new policy is needed because DISD already has a policy prohibiting harassment of students based on various factors, including sexual orientation.
Bullying policies have taken on added significance after a string of widely publicized recent teen suicides across the country, including several by students who’d experienced bullying and harassment because they were gay or perceived to be gay.
DISD’s nine-member board of trustees has been considering a new anti-bullying policy that would strengthen penalties and clarify definitions. However, as currently written, the proposal doesn’t list factors based on which students would be protected.
In response to the concerns of LGBT advocates, Blackburn said he plans to introduce a substitute proposal that would enumerate those factors, including both sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The policy that the administration has recommended is the same policy that the Texas Association of School Boards has recommended,” Blackburn said Monday, Oct. 18. “What I’m doing is looking at policies across the nation, not just in Texas. I’m looking for something more wide-ranging. I’m still doing some research, and what I’m hoping to do is come back to the administration with a revision to what they have proposed with some additional language that other states are using.”
Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for the district, said Thursday, Oct. 21 that trustees have put off discussion of the new bullying policy until November at the earliest.
“We already have a policy on the books that talks about no harassment of kids for gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, all of those things, so I think they wanted to take a step back and do a little more research,” Dahlander said. “I think they felt like, you know what, while the word bullying may not necessarily be there, harassment certainly is and we probably need to go back to the drawing board and revisit whether or not we need this policy based on what we’ve already got.”
DISD’s harassment policy, passed in the mid-1990s, includes sexual orientation but not gender identity.
Meanwhile, DISD’s Student Code of Conduct prohibits “offensive language” related to “gender orientation,” a term which is not defined in the code.
Dahlander said DISD was the first in the state to include sexual orientation in its harassment policy. He also said he believes trustees are open to including sexual orientation and gender identity in the bullying policy, which is one of the reasons they put off discussion.
“They may specifically address different categories of students or different kinds of bullying, or they may not address it because of what’s already there in terms of harassment,” Dahlander said. “The ball, as always, is in their court.”
Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas, was among several LGBT advocates who met with Blackburn this week to discuss his proposal.
Cox said RCD officials have heard from at least two other trustees who support a fully inclusive policy. However, she noted that the policy will need five votes to pass.
“My experience tells me that things are never as easy as they should be,” Cox said. “I think with the ongoing need and now the spotlight on LGBT bullying and suicide, passing a policy that doesn’t specifically include LGBT folks would not be prudent. It would essentially have no teeth in it.”
Both Blackburn and Cox encouraged people in the LGBT community to contact their trustees and urge them to support a fully inclusive policy. Contact information for trustees is listed on the DISD website at www.dallasisd.org/about/boardcontact.htm.
Blackburn also said he plans to ask DISD’s administration to come up with proposed guidelines related to gender identity and homecoming court eligibility.
The principal at North Dallas High School recently sparked controversy when she refused to allow transgender female student Andy Moreno to run for homecoming queen.
The district currently has no policy on the matter. In response to the controversy at NDHS, DISD officials released statements saying they supported the principal’s decision and trumpeting the district’s “aggressive” anti-harassment policy — even though it doesn’t include gender identity.
Blackburn said he’s concerned that in the absence of a DISD policy related to homecoming eligibility and gender identity, principals at different schools could reach different decisions.
“I would like for us to be consistent district-wide,” Blackburn said. “We need to start talking about it so that we have something in policy before the start of school for next year. It’s new territory for us, and I think we need to take our time and do it right.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010