Saline school board continues to debate changes to its non-discrimination policy
Saline student Kevin Anderson, who is straight, says he's been called homosexual slurs at school. His best friend is a lesbian and “feels like everyone hates her,” he says.
Anderson is among those advocating for a change in the Saline Area Schools non-discrimination policy to add sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. About 50 people attended a meeting on the issue tonight — and although it got heated at times, no decision was made.
Responding to some board members’ previous reluctance to change the policy due to religious beliefs, Anderson urged them put their religious feelings about homosexuality aside and focus on students’ safety.
“If you find their lifestyles to be a sin, forget that and think that this is your best friend being harassed for who they are,” he said. “It’s hard for them to handle. And by adding these six words to this policy, you can make a world of difference.”
The issue, which has been debated for months, will be discussed again at Tuesday’s full board meeting and could be voted on at the Sept. 28 meeting. Tonight's meeting at Liberty School was the policy committee.
Trustee Lisa Slawson emphasized to students that district staff will work for their safety, regardless of the official policy.
“These men (superintendent Scot Graden and assistant superintendent Steve Laatsch) and your teacher will do everything in their power to make sure that, when you walk through the halls tomorrow, they will do everything in their power to make you feel safe,” she said.
Bullying, hazing and harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identification and gender expression are outlawed under the district’s bullying policy. Some trustees expressed doubt that the non-discrimination policy needs to be changed because the groups are already protected under that code.
“The root of the problem is bullying, we need to get that under control,” said Trustee Paul Hynak.
Board secretary Chuck Lesch disagreed with changing the policy due to the state’s civil rights code.
“We are an elected body beholding to the state of Michigan, and the state of Michigan hasn’t recognized (gay, gender identification and gender expression) as a class,” he said.
Many students from Saline and other area districts attended the meeting and spoke of their experiences in school.
Katie Slawson, a Saline High School student and the daughter of Trustee Slawson, echoed Anderson’s point of view that religion needs to be taken out of the debate.
“This is not an issue of religion or morality, this is an issue of what’s right and what’s wrong,” she said.
Lisa Slawson said her daughter was bullied for being perceived as gay last school year. She said students who helped organize the movement to approve the policy change are exactly what the district hopes to get from its students.
“You’re all so very brave and you are what this district strives to do, and that is put out great citizens,” she said. “I am so proud of all of you.”
Interest in the issue stretched outside the Saline school district.
Glenn Nelson, secretary of the Ann Arbor school board, told the committee about Ann Arbor’s experience in adding similar language to its non-discrimination policy.
He said he believes it's important for the Saline board to add that language to its policy because it would contribute positively to the county’s reputation, has been beneficial in Ann Arbor and because the students from Saline are so passionate.
“The students know better than we do what goes on in school,” Nelson said. “I think it’s time to trust them.”
Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.