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Hart district, rights group clash on gay, lesbian issues

• Local PFLAG president cites good job, says more needed.

Posted: April 15, 2008 2:28 a.m.
Updated: June 16, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
According to Diversity Coordinator Greg Lee, teachers and administrators in the Hart district are trained to be sensitive to the needs of gay and lesbian students. However, the president of the Santa Clarita PFLAG chapter says that while the district has made progress, he still feels more could be done.

Dave McEachern, president of the local Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays chapter and a former teacher in the William S. Hart Union High School District, said that despite the district's efforts, there are still incidents of harassment toward gays and lesbians on district campuses.

"I respect what Lee is doing. He's probably the first person at the district to address these gay and lesbian issues," McEachern said. "I still think they're not doing enough."

New teachers at the Hart district go through a New Teacher Induction, which includes seminars on "Eliminating Bias" and "Bullying and Beyond," Lee said. The California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 protects minorities - and all students - from harassment on campus.

"At the beginning of every school year, all of the site principals are mandated by law - and by the district - to make sure the staff is aware of the protective status of gay and lesbian students according to that law," Lee said. "Plus, all of the schools have behavior assemblies where they address what is and is not acceptable behavior, so treatment of gays and lesbians would be discussed with the entire school population at that time."

The behavior assemblies address bias-motivated acts, and that would include name-calling, Lee said.

However, McEachern doesn't believe teachers and administrators go far enough in protecting gay and lesbian students, especially from hurtful language.

"People will comment, 'oh, that's gay,' and my biggest problem is that no one is training the teachers to not allow students to use the words 'gay' or 'queer' in a derogatory manner. When someone says 'that's so gay,' it's just considered an expression," McEachern said. "(Gay and lesbian students) feel like it's just something they should put up with, and my question is, why?"

McEachern said that students and teachers should realize that many gay and lesbian high school students have not made their sexual orientation public, and that they could hurt someone's feelings without knowing it.

"People get a big laugh when they say something about gays and lesbians, but they don't realize that there are gay and lesbian students who have not come out who are probably listening," he said.

McEachern would like the Hart district to invite gays and lesbians to help when training teachers about tolerance and sensitivity toward those students.

"They need to hear about it from a gay, lesbian or transgender person - not from someone reading out of a book," McEachern said.

Lee said that PFLAG and other groups, including the Gay and Lesbian Association of Santa Clarita, have presented programs at Hart district schools.

"It's not something I've orchestrated from a district level, but these groups have come out and worked with our counselors," Lee said.

In February, when a 15-year-old transgender student was shot and killed at an Oxnard high school, Lee checked in with all of the Hart district's school sites to see how students were reacting at each school, he said.

"Some of the counselors said that some of their gay and lesbian students were experiencing some anxiety, and the counselors said they were dealing with it," Lee said. "We've got information going out to students, staff and administrators up and down the scale, so I think that we're addressing this issue."

McEachern admits that the district handles gay and lesbian issues much better than when he was a teacher there, and that Lee is doing a great job.

"The Hart district takes the concerns of their minority students very seriously," McEachern said. "Lee is open-minded and that's a good step, but I think we could do more as a district."

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