A revised draft of DISD’s new bullying policy

Lew Blackburn

If you’ll remember, the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees moved forward last Thursday with a new bullying policy that would specifically protect LGBT students. The LGBT-inclusive bullying policy, which would be the first in the state, was brought forward by trustees Lew Blackburn and Bernadette Nutall after a previous proposal from the administration failed to enumerate protected groups.

Today, Blackburn was kind enough to send over a revised draft of the LGBT-inclusive policy, which reflects some minor changes suggested by trustees during Thursday’s meeting.

“The changes are mostly formatting, with a few wordings that individual trustees wanted to add for greater clarity,” Blackburn said. “We are scheduled to vote on the policy next week.”

Read the revised draft of the policy by going here. Next week’s meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18 in the Ada L. Williams Auditorium, at 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas.

—  John Wright

DISD moves ahead on LGBT-inclusive bullying policy

SPREADING THE WORD | Rafael McDonnell, facing camera, speaks to the press Thursday following the DISD  board meeting in which trustees gave preliminary approval to an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

District spokesman says new proposal likely to be approved at Nov. 18 board meeting

Click here to read a draft of the proposed policy

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

In response to a series of gay teen suicides across the nation, the Dallas Independent School District is moving forward with a policy that provides specific protections against bullying for LGBT students.

The seven-page policy discussed by DISD’s board of trustees on Thursday, Nov. 4, would make the district the first in Texas to outlaw bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

None of DISD’s nine trustees spoke against the proposal during Thursday’s briefing session, and a district spokesman said afterward that the policy likely will be approved by the board at its next meeting Nov. 18.

“I hope as a district that this sets a trend for others — that this is something that has to end, and let it begin with DISD,” trustee Nancy Bingham said.

District staff had initially proposed a general bullying policy that failed to enumerate categories of protected students, prompting objections from LGBT advocates who’ve lobbied trustees over the last month.

Trustee Eric Cowan said he’s glad the categories were added.

“I wish we were at a point where all students could mean all students, but unfortunately our society isn’t there yet,” Cowan said.

The LGBT-inclusive policy was brought forward by trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn. The policy is similar to one that’s in place in Broward County, Fla., home to Fort Lauderdale.

“We finally got a bullying policy where everybody is covered,” Nutall said. “I was bullied as a child, so I don’t want anybody to go through that craziness.”

Nutall said she’s asked staff to develop training on the policy for students, teachers and staff. The policy will be included in the Code of Conduct that’s distributed to all DISD students.

“They need to understand what bullying is and what they can get in trouble for,” Nutall said.

Thursday’s discussion came after trustees heard from three representatives from the LGBT community.

Roger Poindexter, director of Lambda Legal’s South Central Region, warned that gay students who’ve been bullied have won large monetary settlements from districts in other parts of the nation.

Poindexter said while a general policy might give adults “a warm fuzzy feeling,” it wouldn’t accomplish its goal.

“We need to spell it out so the bullies can understand it,” Poindexter said, before reading off the names of gay teens who’ve taken their own lives in recent months, including 13-year-old Asher Brown near Houston.

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said 10 years of research shows that enumerated bullying policies are more effective.

“If it isn’t written, nobody’s going to think about it,” McDonnell said.

Jesse Garcia, president of Dallas’ gay chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told trustees they’re “sorely mistaken” if they think current policies are protecting students from anti-gay bullying.

While DISD has policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, Garcia said he knows a student who was bullied relentlessly for being gay before being “saved” by the LGBT community.

“Don’t make a suicide make you do the right thing,” Garcia told trustees. “The time to act is now.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Trustee says DISD administration resisting protections for gay students in bullying policy

Bernadette Nutall

The Dallas Independent School District’s administration is reportedly resisting an effort to include specific protections for LGBT students in a new bullying policy, setting up a possible showdown over the issue during Thursday’s board of trustees meeting.

DISD trustee Bernadette Nutall told Instant Tea on Wednesday that the district’s attorneys are objecting to her proposal to list categories of protected students in the bullying policy, because they say it could open up the district up to lawsuits from those who are left out.

Nutall said she submitted a fully inclusive policy that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to the administration on Tuesday, Nov. 2. However, the administration has posted a noninclusive version of the policy that doesn’t list any categories of protected students on Thursday’s agenda.

Nuttall encouraged people in the LGBT community to attend the board meeting and speak in support of the substitute policy she’s proposing along with Trustee Lew Blackburn. Those who wish to speak at the meeting must sign up by calling 972-925-3720 before 5 p.m. Wednesday. The meeting will be at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the board room at district offices, 3700 Ross Ave. in Dallas.

“I don’t know why they don’t want to put it in there,” Nutall said. “I was very frustrated. I really don’t understand the resistance. I’m thinking it’s a no-brainer, but I’m finding out that it’s not. … The community needs to drive this policy.”

A DISD spokeswoman said the board of trustees will discuss the proposed bullying policy on Thursday but will not take a final vote.

“They will be talking about the policy that you see [on the agenda], and they can add or change the language as they see fit,” the spokeswoman said. “Tomorrow’s briefing will kind of determine what direction this is going to take and what additional language, if any, they want to see.”

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said Wednesday that at least three LGBT leaders, including himself, plan to speak at Thursday’s meeting. The others are Jesse Garcia, president of the LULAC Rainbow Council, and Roger Poindexter, the new director for Lambda Legal’s South Central Region.

McDonnell said he’ll request that the board of trustees delay consideration of the bullying policy until it can further discussed.

“Even if people don’t want to speak, I think we need to pack the chambers,” McDonnell said, noting that many other school districts around the nation have adopted fully inclusive bullying policies without objections from attorneys. “Clearly there are other legal minds who come to a different answer.”

—  John Wright

Is DISD refusing to protect gay kids from bullying?

We’ve been told repeatedly in recent weeks that DISD’s board of trustees planned to put off a vote on a new bullying policy until officials could further discuss whether it should enumerate specific categories of students who would be protected, including those who are targeted based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

So it comes as quite a surprise that this Thursday’s board agenda includes an item calling for approval, on second reading, of the same non-inclusive bullying policy that was initially proposed by the DISD administration. If you’ll recall, the non-inclusive policy prompted objections from LGBT groups, and at least two DISD trustees responded by saying they’d propose a substitute that enumerates specific protections.

We’ve got calls in to district spokesman Jon Dahlander, as well as trustees Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn, to find out what’s going on. But for the record, Rafael McDonnell at Resource Center Dallas is concerned:

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “Based on the conversations with several board members, this proposed policy doesn’t reflect the information we gave them and how they responded to us.”

McDonnell notes that the only apparent change in the proposed policy since it was first introduced is the addition of the following paragraph at the very top:

—  John Wright

Another DISD trustee comes out in support of a bullying policy that protects gay, transgender kids

Bernadette Nutall

A second Dallas Independent School District trustee spoke out publicly this week in support of a bullying policy that provides specific protections for gay and transgender students.

Trustee Bernadette Nutall, who represents District 9, said she’s asked DISD staff to draft a proposed policy that protects as many categories of students as possible, including those who may be bullied on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Nutall joins trustee Lew Blackburn among those who’ve publicly stated their support for an LGBT-inclusive bullying policy.

The district has been considering a new bullying policy, but as originally drafted by the DISD administration, the proposal didn’t include specific categories of students that would be protected.

Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for the district, suggested last week that a new bullying policy isn’t necessary because DISD already has an anti-harassment policy that includes sexual orientation.

But Nutall disagreed.

“Harassment is bullying, but how many kids come home and say, ‘Mom, I was harassed today’?” Nutall told Instant Tea on Wednesday, Oct. 27. “Can’t we just keep it simple?

“I think we need to be very clear, if you mistreat someone because they are different or because they’re not like you, there are consequences for your actions,” Nutall said.

Nutall said she was bullied as a child and currently has a daughter in middle school in the district. She also said she’s a devout Baptist but believes people need to set aside their personal beliefs.

“Ultimately you have to protect all people whether you agree with them or not,” Nutall said. “It’s not about that, it’s about you have the right to be who you are.”

Nutall said she’s forwarded to district staff copies of policies from places like Broward County, Fla., and Philadelphia that include sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Despite likely opposition from the religious right, which is fighting LGBT-inclusive bullying policies nationally, Nutall is confident her proposal will receive support from a majority of the nine-member DISD board when the policy comes back up for a vote, which is expected to be sometime in November.

“I think I have the five votes,” Nutall said. “I do believe it’s going to pass without a problem.”

LGBT advocates have encouraged people in the community to contact their trustees and urge them to support a fully inclusive police. Contact info for trustees is listed on the DISD website.

—  John Wright

H4PJ calls on Dallas City Council to support LGBT-inclusive bullying policy for DISD

The Rev. Michael Piazza

The Rev. Michael Piazza, executive director of Hope for Peace and Justice, is slated to address the Dallas City Council this morning and ask the council to pass a resolution encouraging the Dallas Independent School District “to do everything in their power to prevent bullying,” according to David Plunkett, a spokesman for H4PJ.

In the wake of last month’s gay teen suicide crisis, H4PJ has been circulating a petition, which has more than 1,000 signatures, calling for DISD to adopt fully inclusive anti-bullying guidelines that provide specific protections for LGBT students. DISD’s board of trustees is  considering a new anti-bullying policy, but as currently written, the proposed policy doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity. DISD trustee Lew Blackburn told Dallas Voice this week he plans to introduce a substitute policy that does include sexual orientation and gender identity. Blackburn, along with LGBT advocates, have urged people in the community to contact the other trustees and urge them to support Blackburn’s proposal. DISD’s new anti-bullying policy could be up for a final vote as early as next week.

Courtesy of Plunkett, here’s the text of Piazza’s remarks:

I am here to present a petition signed by 1,000 people requesting that the Dallas City Council pass a resolution encouraging the Dallas Independent School District to do everything in their power to prevent the bullying that has led to far too many suicides of young people. Just down I-45, 13-year-old Asher Brown took his life in September. Then, earlier this month, just north on I-35 in Norman, Oklahoma, 19-year-old Zach Herrington took his life following a toxic debate at a city council meeting.  We are asking you to encourage DISD to ensure the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children.

I could speak to you today as someone who was a pastor in this city for 22 years at the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender church. I could speak to you as the President of Hope for Peace & Justice whose petitions I present. However, I’d like to use my two minutes to appeal to you as a parent. I have two teenage girls. One is a junior at the School for the Talented and Gifted, and the other is a senior at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

My partner and I might have sent our daughters to private schools, but it was very important to us that they attend public schools where most of the children in this city receive their education. It hasn’t always been easy for them.

My oldest daughter was in Harry Stone Middle School when the state of Texas passed a constitutional amendment that denied marriage equality to her parents. Next month my partner and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary. So, you can imagine my daughter’s surprise when her language arts teacher told her students, during class, to be sure their parents voted in favor of the constitutional amendment because, and I quote, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Fortunately, my daughter was secure enough to raise her hand and ask, “Excuse me Mrs. Smith, but then who did create Adam and Steve?”

Her teacher said, “I guess you must know some of those people,” to which Jerica replied, “Only just about everyone in my life who loves me.”

Jerica knew how to handle herself, but imagine for just a moment if you had been a small boy struggling with your sexuality and heard that teacher’s words. Imagine if you had been a child who had been abused at home and so filled with rage that you were looking for someone to bully. That DISD teacher, at one of our best magnet schools, just gave you all the justification you needed.

As a father, I beg you. Make a statement that this is not who we are in Dallas and that we know our children are not our own, but they are ALL — gay, lesbian, transgender or heterosexual — children of God. Thank you .

—  John Wright

DISD trustee to propose LGBT-inclusive bullying policy, transgender homecoming guidelines

Lew Blackburn

Lew Blackburn, a member of the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees, said Monday he plans to propose an anti-bullying policy that includes specific protections for LGBT students.

DISD is already considering a new anti-bullying policy, but as currently written, it doesn’t spell out the categories of students who would be protected. Last week, Resource Center Dallas asked DISD to add protections for specific groups, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Several youth across the nation who were gay or perceived to be gay have committed suicide in response to bullying and harassment in recent weeks.

“The policy that the administration has recommended is the same policy that the Texas Association of School Boards has recommended,” Blackburn told Instant Tea on Monday. “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,” Blackburn said. “I think it’s going to be up for approval next week, but I’m going to try to have it delayed for another month so we can get more language into the policy.”

Blackburn encouraged people in the LGBT community to contact their trustees about the new anti-bullying policy. Contact information for trustees is listed on DISD’s website.

We also asked Blackburn about the recent controversy involving Andy Moreno, the transgender girl who was denied a chance to run for homecoming queen at North Dallas High School.

Blackburn responded that he plans to ask the administration to draft a policy on the subject and bring it to the board of trustees for consideration. He said he’s concerned that in the absence of such a policy, 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.”

—  John Wright