Friday, November 04, 2005

North Carolina State Board of Education rejects proposal to protect LGBT students

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From the Raleigh News & Observer Gay counseling change rejected State board opts for 'diversity' rule By TODD SILBERMAN, Staff Writer November 4, 2005 Aaron Hepps, a high school student, says schools should be able to help kids who are coping with issues such as their sexual orientation. So Aaron got excused Wednesday and Thursday from Southeast Raleigh High School, where he's a senior, to hear the State Board of Education debate a policy change aimed at better preparing guidance counselors and school social workers for those issues. He left disappointed. On a split vote, the board Thursday rejected specific references to causes of discrimination, including race, creed, color, sexual orientation, national origin and disabilities. Instead the board opted for a more general reference: "human diversity." Aaron, 17, left home in March after a falling out with his parents, whom he said could not accept that he was gay. School counselors, he said, were ill-equipped to help him. "I wanted people I could go to, but they didn't have the background in the area," he said. Thursday's action by the state board applies to standards that colleges and universities follow in training counselors and social workers. It doesn't govern what they can say to students. If specific causes of discrimination aren't identified when they are trained, Aaron said, counselors and social workers could be left without the knowledge they need. "If those areas need great improvement, it's not going to get done," he said. Yet, the board adopted language that at least one member said will not impede counselors and others from doing their jobs. "I wanted it to be a very inclusive policy to include any kind of diversity," said Patricia Willoughby of Raleigh, one of seven board members who rejected listing specific causes of discrimination. "Our expectation is that these professionals will treat each student with the respect and care they deserve." One of four members who voted instead for specific language cited the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination on the specifics of color, race, religion and national origin. "I'm glad it wasn't this broad in 1964," said Edgar Murphy, a black board member. "The Civil Rights Act wasn't accomplished with a general statement," Murphy said after the meeting. "As America has progressed, we've always identified where there's been a problem and taken action. It's easier to fix a problem when you identify it. "I want to be sure that every student can get help from our counselors," he said. The board split over the issue of training for counselors and social workers after a group that calls itself a watchdog of "traditional family values" challenged the proposed policy. The N.C. Family Policy Council, which pushed the state's abstinence-only sex education program, said in a letter to the board in September that identifying specific causes of discrimination, such as sexual orientation, would encourage tolerance of unwanted behavior in the state's public schools. By voting to drop references to specific causes of discrimination, the board also put itself at odds with professional organizations of counselors and social workers. Both urged the board to be specific. "It's disappointing that the language didn't stand," said Audrey Thomasson, a former Wake guidance counselor who is executive director of the N.C. School Counselor Association. "You better be very clear about what it is that you're expecting." Counselors need the training, she said. "This is an issue that sooner or later most school counselors will deal with." A student adviser on the board said schools need to be better equipped to help students, such as Aaron Hepps, who are struggling with issues of sexual orientation. "Leaving out the words 'sexual orientation' or 'gender identification' will only mask the problem," Sara McClure, the student adviser, said in a letter to the board. Sara is a classmate of Aaron's at Southeast Raleigh High. "Some people are afraid to deal with it and fear that counselors will be seen as affirming what some refer to as 'dangerous and immoral behavior,' " she said. "Counselors and social workers in our schools need to be able to help students cope with these issues, regardless of their personal feelings. Our schools open their doors every day to all students, not just the ones we're comfortable educating." Staff writer Todd Silberman can be reached at 829-4531 or Original Source: click here