- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

Some members of the Fairfax County school board are opposing a proposal that would ban discrimination against homosexual employees, saying the measure would be redundant and is not necessary.

At-large member Rita Thompson said adding the words "sexual orientation" to laws that already provide protection for employees would not enhance the statutes in any way, saying that only a small group has been pushing for the change.

"It is not a concern for parents or the school community," she said.

Mychele Brickner, another at-large board member, voted against including the words "sexual orientation" in the student handbook last year. She said school employees should not flaunt their sexuality at school.

"School is a place to educate children. You need to keep your personal life separate from what you are doing in class and school," she said, adding that it is clear the school system does not endorse any kind of discrimination.

The board will soon consider the anti-discrimination proposal after staff members complained their jobs were being threatened and that they were being harassed over their sexual orientation.

"Students, faculty members and parents have raised the issue of the school system needing a nondiscrimination policy," said at-large board member Robert Frye, who has asked for a discussion on the issue at a June 27 work session.

The board last year prohibited the harassment of students over their sexual orientation and other factors such as race, religion, color and sex.

But teachers cite instances of discrimination. Robert Rigby, a special education teacher at Hayfield Secondary School, said a principal once told him he could lose his job for referring to gay students in an e-mail.

Another time, he was asked to take a rainbow sticker off his car because students might think he was a homosexual, he said. One homosexual teacher in the school system, he said, was told he couldn't go on field trips with students.

Mr. Rigby, who heads the area chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said he welcomes the school board discussion. "We are looking for a promise that the school system does not sanction that kind of discrimination," he said.

Some parents say a policy is needed to avoid confusion among administrators and teachers about what kinds of words and behavior are offensive.

Marianne Vakiener said her middle school child, who is not homosexual, was repeatedly called a "faggot" on the school bus by another child. She said the bus driver did not react, adding that had the slur been a racist or religious one, he would have.

"Right now teachers and administrators are nervous they don't know how to react when someone uses such words," she said, insisting that the school system needed to clearly state it would not tolerate discrimination against students and teachers who are homosexual.

Some county groups are joining the debate, uncertain how a change in policy would affect them.

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