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Today is Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Broader Policy Eliminates Written Protections For Gays

Many Ann Arbor students say they feel let down, vulnerable, after recent school board decision

[ANN ARBOR, MI] - Members of Huron High's Gay-Straight Alliance say an Oct. 9 Ann Arbor school board decision is undermining the atmosphere of tolerance that their club has worked hard to promote.

The controversial 6-3 decision by the board stated that student clubs would "henceforth be asked to sign a statement banning discrimination based only on race, color, and national origin," not on all 15 categories covered in the district's broader non-discrimination policy.

Many students say they are worried that the change will affect how safe lgbt students feel in school.

District high school students have attended two school board meetings to protest the change. In addition, they have circulated petitions asking the district to reverse its decision.

Sarah Andrew-Vaughan, faculty adviser for Huron's GSA, said the district officials who agreed to the change are sending the wrong message to students. "It seems like the lesson they're teaching is that the Ann Arbor Public Schools say discrimination is unacceptable in theory, but in practice it's acceptable."

Andrew-Vaughan added that she doesn't understand how district officials can say the broad non-discrimination policy remains in force, even though student clubs are no longer being asked to sign the broader statement.

The board decision was prompted by an earlier lawsuit threat by a Christian club at Pioneer High School, Pioneers for Christ. The club threatened to sue the board because it was being asked to sign the new policy.

Until last year, student clubs were not asked to sign any non- discrimination statement. This changed after a 2001 settlement between the district and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights that answered a complaint of discrimination against white students. One provision in the 2001 agreement is that all school clubs would ensure through charters, by-laws, or other written material that "membership is not limited or based on race, color or national origin."

As a result, administrators decided to ask student clubs to adopt the district's broader non-discrimination statement. Trustee Bob Rorke, who voted against the change Oct. 9, said by straying from the exact requirements the Office of Civil Rights established, administrators made a mistake.

All clubs complied with the request to sign the policy except for Pioneers for Christ at Pioneer High School, who the district never forced to sign the broad statement. Sebastian Seromik, president of Pioneers for Christ, said the club feared that signing the broad statement would allow the club to be considered discriminatory for teaching certain Christian views, such as that the practice of homosexuality is wrong or that Jesus is the way to God.

To one member of Huron's GSA, the move by district officials represents a retreat.

"I really feel that they essentially chickened out, she said. That they saw lawyers and lawsuits ... and they thought ... the easiest way out was to roll over and say, 'Have it your way.'"

One student, a senior at Huron High school, said she felt that the broader policy gives some students the rationale they need to insult or offend others.

"All they need to know is the school board is not supporting this ... All they needed is a push, which the school board gave them, to instigate discrimination," she said, adding that she sees "first-hand the discrimination and put-downs that are tossed around at school."

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