- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Five teachers at a Northern California 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.

The San Leandro High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance designed the poster, which includes pink triangles and other symbols of homosexual 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 teachers too often do not reprimand students who use 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 involved in disputes over homosexuality in the past.

In 1997, a parents’ group at the high school demanded that a lesbian 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, a homosexual 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.

“There was a real need to do this,” he said. “A lot of students didn’t know about gay people in general.”

In addition to the poster policy, homosexual students have toured the district’s schools speaking to teachers about harassment they’ve encountered.

For the past two years, teachers have been required to attend annual three-hour sessions addressing the problems faced by homosexual students and how to deal with students’ homophobic comments. This year’s session was held Monday, during which the posters were distributed to teachers.

Rick Styner, a computer science teacher at San Leandro High, 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,” Mr. Styner said. “As teachers, we have to address these things. Students start to feel unsafe in the classroom.”

c Distributed by Scripps Howard

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