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Saturday, September 30, 2000

Gay safety
proposals sent to
Board of Ed

A hearing draws 60-plus
people on both sides of the
anti-harassment rules

By Crystal Kua

A Board of Education committee, without issuing a recommendation, has decided to let the full board vote on controversial rules to protect gay and lesbian students against harassment.

Some criticized the committee, saying they could be seen as weak for not taking a stand.

"The integrity of the board is at stake," said board member Shannon Ajifu.

But the chairman of the Student Services Committee said when the 13-member board does take up the issue, it will be just as divided as the committee was on whether to approve the rules last night.

"It's going to be very close. It could even be a 7-6 vote," Winston Sakurai said. "I wish we had made a recommendation to the full board, but that doesn't deny the authority of the full board to make a decision on it."

The proposed rules would prohibit harassment based on civil rights categories that include sexual orientation. The Department of Education recommended approval of the rule.

During public hearings in May and June, most of the testimony was in favor of the rule change but there was some opposition.

Ajifu and Sakurai, both of whom are not up for re-election this year, said the political climate of an election year has polarized not only the community but the board itself. Sakurai said he's been asked both to hold the rules and rush the approval.

The boardroom yesterday was packed with people on both sides of the issues carrying signs that said "Equal Rights not Special Rights" and "Safe Schools for All Children."

Testimony that appeared to trouble board members came from accounts of school personnel harassing students or condoning the harassment of students.

"At my own school, unfortunately, last June one of the (vice principals) called a child a faggot," said Sue Reardon, a Kalaheo High School special-education teacher.

The committee did vote in favor of having state Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu enforce the rules already on the books to prevent harassment.

Among the 60-plus people who testified at the meeting, opinions were equally split.

Supporters, including civil rights organizations, the teachers union and gay and lesbian groups said the rules are needed to protect students who are perceived as being gay or lesbian.

Opposition came from the Alliance for Traditional Marriage and several church groups, and included testimony that a specific group should not be given special protections and that the rules could open school doors to homosexual propaganda.

The board could take up the issue at its Oct. 19 or Nov. 2 meeting.

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