- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

The Fairfax County School Board yesterday put off a vote on adding the words "sexual orientation" to its employee-nondiscrimination code and decided to seek the state attorney general's opinion on the issue after a board member questioned the legality of such a change.

At-large member Rita Thompson cited past opinions issued by the attorney general including one issued in April that say the General Assembly would have to pass enabling legislation to allow counties to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"I think we need the attorney general's opinion in this case," Mrs. Thompson said. "The county does not have the authority to add the words 'sexual orientation' without the General Assembly's consent."

Board Chairman Stuart Gibson said he decided to pull the item off the agenda after considering Mrs. Thompson's objections and discussions with other board members.

"We will have to see what the attorney general says we have the power to do," Mr. Gibson said, adding that the School Board needs to ensure it is doing the right thing before voting on the change.

Mr. Gibson said he was disappointed that the matter had been blown out of proportion.

"I have been on the board seven years and never seen any issue generate this kind of heat," Mr. Gibson said. "Both sides are out of control."

The board took up the anti-discrimination proposal after staff members complained their jobs were being threatened and they were being harassed because of their sexual orientation.

At-large member Robert Frye, who submitted the proposal, said he believed there was a need to ban discrimination against homosexual workers and expressed disappointment that the item was deleted from the agenda.

"I would have much preferred to vote the issue up or down," Mr. Frye said.

County residents on each side of the issue have flooded board members with hundreds of e-mails over the past few weeks.

Those lobbying for the change say it is important that the school system protect employees from discrimination, while those against it say it is a step toward bringing homosexuality into schools.

"I am sure the Fairfax County School Board will find a way to say they won't discriminate against students and teachers," said Robert Rigby, a special-education teacher at Hayfield Secondary School who heads the area chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Meanwhile, some county groups who oppose the change organized a rally yesterday before the School Board meeting at Luther Jackson Middle School.

Peter LaBarbera, senior policy analyst at the Culture and Family Institute and a rally organizer, said the past opinions issued by the attorney general show the proposed change "should never have been an issue."

"We know [school board members] are determined to get this through. We want to show the board that parents and the community care about homosexuality being promoted in schools," Mr. LaBarbera said.

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