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Thursday, November 2, 2000

BOE’s ‘gay’ vote
looms, and Sakata
feels the heat

Controversial new harassment
policy rules come to a vote today
at the Kauai meeting

BOE candidates offer views
on proposed harassment rule.

By Crystal Kua

Shannon Ajifu walked over to fellow Board of Education member Keith Sakata yesterday afternoon and gave him a hug.

It was Ajifu's way of reassuring a colleague who has felt heavy pressure for the past few weeks.

Sakata has been struggling to decide how to vote today on whether to approve controversial rules designed to protect different categories of students -- including gay and lesbian students -- against harassment.

Burdened by being the so-called swing vote on a sharply divided board, Sakata said no matter how he votes, he expects to be feel the wrath of the opposing side.

"I'm damned if I do, and I'm damned if I don't," Sakata said.

The vote will be taken at the board's regularly scheduled meeting today on Kauai.

The rules would add language to prohibit harassment based on several classifications, including race, gender, religion and the most controversial category of "sexual orientation."

Those who support the rules say they are needed to protect gay and lesbian students, who are frequent targets of harassment.

Opposition has come from those who say that gay and lesbian students should not receive special protection and that all students should be shielded from harassment by enforcing current rules. Opponents also fear that approving the rules would pave the way for homosexuality to be taught in the schools.

Based on a preliminary poll and interviews of most board members, six appear likely to vote in favor of keeping "sexual orientation" as a protected class: Ajifu, Karen Knudsen, Garrett Toguchi, Michael Nakamura, Herbert Watanabe and Chairman Mitsugi Nakashima.

Four members appear likely to vote against the language: Ron Nakano, Meyer Ueoka, Noemi Pendleton and Lex Brodie.

Winston Sakurai, chairman of the committee that passed the rules to the board without a recommendation on how to vote, had indicated early on that he was also torn, but other board members put him as voting against the language in the current rules.

Some board members have also pointed to Denise Matsumoto as opposing the current language in the rules, but Matsumoto said yesterday that she doesn't know how she will be vote today. She would prefer that alternative language be written and be supported by all board members to send a "zero tolerance" message against all forms of harassment against all students.

But those in favor of keeping the language of the rules the way it is say they are not in favor of amended language.

In the days leading up to next week's general election, the debate over the rules has spiced up what would normally be a ho-hum Board of Education race.

While Sakata is not up for re-election this year, other members on the board running for another term have found the issue to be a hot political topic.

Toguchi is fighting to win the third of three seats in the Oahu at-large race. His main opponent in vying for that seat is Carol Gabbard, whose husband, Mike Gabbard, led the battle against same-sex marriage in Hawaii.

In the primary election, Carol Gabbard came in third place, followed by Toguchi.

Some say the fervor in the debate over the anti-harassment rules is similar to the rhetoric and emotion seen in the same-sex debate that engulfed the 1998 election.

With people on both sides of the debate lobbying board members heavily, Sakata said it has been the toughest decision he has had to make.

"I'm going to vote my conscience, what is best for the children."

School board
candidates have
mixed opinions on gay
harassment issue

By Harold Morse

A moderator last night asked Oahu Board of Education candidates their views on a proposal to extend protection from harassment to gay students in public schools.

Current board member and candidate Denise Matsumoto said the real solution is to ban all harassment. Sexual orientation is only one trait among many known to be excuses to harass, she said.

"My view is that we should just have a policy banning harassment or bullying of any student," Matsumoto said.

Candidates appeared at a forum at Noelani School attended by about 50 community members. The question on gay protection was submitted in writing by an audience member.

"Name-calling is wrong," said Matsumoto, a Honolulu candidate. "Bullying is wrong. Harassment is wrong."

Jeff Rezents, a Central Oahu candidate, said when the gay protection question comes up at forums, "It almost seems that we're being harassed."

Some community members have very strong views, he said. "You cannot identify a special class of citizens as somebody not to be harassed," he said. "Harassment is wrong no matter what."

Board member Garrett Toguchi, an Oahu at-large candidate, said civil rights laws have been amended to provide protection for additional classes of people, the disabled, for example.

"We're not teaching homosexuality in schools. We're talking about protecting students," Toguchi said. "I think the Board of Education should not turn its back on this because it is an issue."

Jacqueline Heupel, also an Oahu at-large candidate, opposed including language on protecting gay students.

"It doesn't matter whatever discrimination it may be," she said. "What you're doing is targeting those gay kids that you're saying you want to protect."

Singling them out as special would defeat the purpose, Heupel said. "If anything, what you'll be doing is causing more violence in schools," she added.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick, a Honolulu candidate, agreed.

Marilyn Harris, Leeward Oahu candidate, said too much time is spent on this issue while children can't read.

"Get back to reading," she said.

Donna Ikeda, Oahu at-large candidate, blasted a pledge now being circulated that deals with "whether or not homosexuality should be taught in our schools as a normal and natural lifestyle."

Ikeda said she does not support teaching of homosexuality as a normal and natural lifestyle, also that she does not agree with opponents of gay protection language that the proposed harassment policy would result in teaching or sanctioning homosexuality.

Carol Gabbard, an Oahu at-large candidate who opposes including gay protection language in the proposal, did not attend the Noelani forum.

On other topics, most candidates thought Hawaii public schools are underfunded. Most also opposed a proposal to move 6th grade students from Noelani, named this year's District Outstanding School, to a middle school.

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