5 teachers balk at posters for gay students
5 teachers balk at posters for gay students
Signs mandated in San Leandro to ensure safety on campuses
Five teachers at San Leandro High School have refused to comply with a school district order to display a rainbow-flag poster in their classrooms that reads, "This is a safe place to be who you are," because they say homosexuality violates their religious beliefs, Principal Amy Furtado said.
The high school's Gay-Straight Alliance designed the poster, which includes pink triangles and other symbols of gay pride. In December the school board approved a policy requiring all district teachers to hang the posters in their classrooms.
District officials said the poster is an effort to comply with state laws requiring schools to ensure students' safety and curb discrimination and harassment. They say that too often teachers do not reprimand students who use derogatory slurs or refer to homosexuality in a negative way.
"This is not about religion, sex or a belief system,'' said district Superintendent Christine Lim, who initiated the poster policy. "This is about educators making sure our schools are safe for our children, regardless of their sexual orientation."
Teachers who refused to display the posters, which were distributed Monday, could not be reached for comment.
The San Leandro Unified School District has been embroiled in controversy over homosexuality in the past.
In 1997, a parents group at the high school demanded that a gay teacher be fired after she came out to her class. In 2002, high school English teacher Karl Debro settled a lawsuit with the district for $1 million after he was disciplined for giving a lecture on racism and homophobia. A judge declared unconstitutional a district policy banning "controversial issues" from the classroom without a principal's approval.
Art teacher Tom Laughlin, who is gay and who oversaw the poster's design by students in the Gay-Straight Alliance, said he was surprised by the level of intolerance for homosexuality that he perceived when he started teaching at the high school five years ago. He said he recognized that it was critical when a student called him a "fag."
"There was a real need to do this," he said. "A lot of students didn't know about gay people in general."
Efforts to change the district's culture with a no-tolerance approach to teasing and harassment of gay students and employees began in 2003 with the hiring of Lim. In addition to the poster policy, gay students have toured the district's schools speaking to teachers about the harassment they've encountered.
For the past two years, teachers have been required to attend annual three-hour sessions addressing the problems faced by gay and lesbian students in school and how to deal with students' homophobic comments.
This year's session was held Monday, during which the posters were distributed to district teachers.
San Leandro High computer science teacher Rick Styner put two of the posters up in his classroom, one by the entryway so it's the first thing students see upon entering the room.
"I'm glad that it gets out there instead of being hidden away like a secret,'' Styner said of any intolerance of homosexuality at the school. "As teachers, we have to address these things. Students start to feel unsafe in the classroom."
Another teacher at the high school -- who was not one of the five Furtado referred to -- said he did not intend to display the poster.
Business teacher Robert Volpa said he was out of town Monday and did not attend the training session and had not heard about the poster. He said, however, he would not put it up in his classroom even though he agrees with the message.
"I think it's outstanding. Any hate language is not permissible," he said. But he added, "I have a problem with the district mandating anything that could be political."
Furtado said she is confident that every teacher eventually will comply with the district mandate. She said she intends to work with those teachers who have refused to ensure they comply with the order.
"We work in a public school," she said. "I have no wish to change anyone's personal belief, but we want all kids to feel safe. That's where we have common ground."
Lim said she had not heard from any of the other schools in the district about whether teachers were refusing to display the posters.
One student at the high school said she hopes the posters will make gay students more comfortable with being honest about their sexuality.
Senior Susannah Keith, 17, said she felt isolated in the school district for years because she felt she could not approach her teachers or other students about being gay.
"It made me feel good to see them," she said of the posters. "It reminds you that gay and lesbian people are everywhere, so watch what you say and what you do and maybe change your attitude."