Change includes bullying in anti-harassment rules, specifically lists gender identity, expression in protected classes
TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
The board of the Fort Worth Independent School District this week quietly approved a new anti-bullying policy for employees that specifically includes prohibitions based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
The policy passed as part of the consent agenda after a second reading during the Tuesday night, Jan. 18 school board meeting. Clint Bond, external communications coordinator for the district, said Wednesday, Jan. 19, that a similar policy applying to students will likely be approved in the near future.
“The student policy hasn’t been changed yet, but it is certainly under discussion,” Bond said. “I think that will go forward and probably will include an update in the near future.”
The student policy already includes “sexual orientation” in the enumerated list of protected classes, but not “gender identity or expression.”
School district officials have said in the past that when they amended the policy to include sexual orientation, they believed that phrase also included gender identity.
The new Employee Welfare Freedom From Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation policy, in essence, amends the previous policy to include specific prohibitions against bullying and to specifically include “gender identity or expression” and “military/veteran status” among the protected classes, Bond said.
It also switches responsibility for administering the policy from the Human Resources department to the new Employee Health and Wellness Department, he said.
Under the policy, the school district is required to “provide training and counseling as needed promote awareness of this policy and the elimination of bullying, harassment, discrimination, or retaliation based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, age, or sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression, or military/veteran status throughout the district.”
In addition to bullying, the policy prohibits discrimination including harassment, and briefly defines the terms discrimination, harassment and bullying, although it does not include the term “cyberbullying.” Bond said other policies define bullying to include cyberbullying.
The new policy also describes the process for reporting and investigation any such incidents.
Tom Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth, said this week the new policy “looks to be thorough” and is “a very positive step forward for the employees of the Fort Worth ISD.”
He noted that the new policy has the support of the local teachers union and stressed that the amendments to the policy were pushed by FWISD administrators, not community advocates.
“This has been an administration-led effort, which is an even more positive sign that they are really looking at their policies across the board,” Anable said. “They pretty much initiated this on their own. And I think it is really nice that they took the initiative in this without a lot of outside pushing.”
Anable acknowledged that the decision to add “gender identity and expression” to the FWISD policy was likely a response to a vote by Dallas Independent School District trustees in November to enact a specifically LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy.
But he also stressed that Fort Worth was already moving in the right direction before the DISD vote, and that community advocates have not had to push as hard for the changes, as Dallas activists did.
“Yes, this is pretty much a response to what the Dallas school district did, but Fort Worth had already added ‘sexual orientation’ to their policies back in March. When they saw what Dallas did, they went back and checked their policies. And when they realized some of the language was missing, they immediately started the dialog to make the changes they needed to make,” Anable said.
“We have had some nice conversations with people in the administration, but it hasn’t taken us the kind of effort it took in Dallas to get this done,” he said.
Anable said he was pleased to see that the policy change “went through on the consent agenda and there wasn’t a big uproar about it.” But he warned that might not be the case when the board discusses changing the policy relating to students.
“This has been very low-key, without a lot of fuss. But when [anti-gay activists] hear about this, they will probably be watching for the student policy to come up for a vote,” he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.