Paso Robles school district trustees had an opportunity to support LGBTQ+ students this week by rejecting an attempt to weaken an anti-discrimination policy.
Instead, they punted.
The school board voted Tuesday night to table a proposal to water down a 2020 policy aimed at protecting LGBTQ+ students from harassment and discrimination.
To quote board President Chris Arend, they decided to let the issue “simmer.”
So the community can become even more polarized?
So angry parents spouting misinformation can become even more enraged?
So the controversy doesn’t become a focus of the November election?
The board already did the right thing in 2020, when it adopted language that guarantees protection specifically for LGBTQ+ students.
It includes examples of misconduct, such as refusing to address students by their preferred names and pronouns; blocking entry to a restroom that corresponds to the student’s gender identity; and using gender-specific slurs.
That would all be erased under the revised policy, though LGBTQ+ students would continue to be protected under a blanket anti-discrimination policy.
District Superintendent Curt Dubost said removing the specific wording “does not mean that protection does not still apply.”
Yet the reason for the change was never made totally clear.
The school district’s legal counsel said the existing version “included what we perceive to be kind of superfluous language.”
Perhaps in a court of law, but written guarantees of protection are hardly superfluous to students who have been subjected to unspeakably ugly acts of discrimination.
Last year, for example, a Pride flag was ripped from a classroom wall at Paso Robles High, stuffed down a toilet and defecated on — and videotaped.
Several speakers at Tuesday’s meeting spoke passionately about the need to make students feel safe and protected, and urged the board to keep the language intact.
“Hiding behind legalese and procedural changes does not address the elephant in the room.... our LGBTQI+ staff, teachers and youth do not feel supported and safe with this board,” teacher Cynthia Mosley said. “So I just want to say don’t vote for this.”
At least the board didn’t vote for it.
But the courageous move would have been to stand up to intolerant bullies who want to roll back protections that are already guaranteed by reaffirming the language already on the books.
And so what of it exceeds what other districts may have?
That’s something to take pride in, since it demonstrates the district’s determination to make its campuses safe and welcoming places for students who have long been ridiculed and discriminated against — so much so that a recent survey by The Trevor Project shows nearly half of LGBTQ+ youths in the U.S. have seriously considered suicide over the past year.
This is a time of enormous social change, and that’s led to struggles and misunderstandings over how to act, what to say and what not to say.
The district is providing a service by spelling things out — in writing — with specific examples like these:
Use a person’s preferred pronouns.
Recognize their right to use the restroom of their choice.
Don’t use slurs.
Is the school board now afraid simple rules like these somehow put the district in legal jeopardy?
If that’s the case, please come out and say it, preferably in plain English.
Otherwise, leave well enough alone and kept the existing policy in place.